Tag Archives: Puberty Sucks

Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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    Rating: C/ Puppylove opens with two 14-year-old kids preparing to have sex. The awkwardness and authenticity of this scene made me think the movie itself was going to be more realistic than it was. But no, the ick factor of this film goes way above and beyond a realistic amount and into a level of ridiculousness. Let me explain. The girl in the movie, Diane (Selene Rigot) is a young teen and looks barely old enough to be weaned off Barbie dolls. She also seems to be in love with her ineffectual father (Vincent Perez) (Freud would be proud.) At the beginning, we see the girl, Diane, befriend Julia (Audrey Bastien,) the remarkably self-possessed nymphet daughter of overbearing intellectual parents who is all too aware of her effect on men. Continue reading Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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Paradise: Hope (2013)

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Raging hormones. Sexual frustration. Adolescent rebellion. A lot can go on during a summer at fat camp.

Cute, heavyset 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a weight management camp by her Aunt (Maria Hofstatter) when her mother goes off on vacation to Kenya. Not as bitter as you might expect, Melanie quickly makes friends with a more sexually experienced girl (Verena Lehbauer) and develops a heart-stopping crush on the camp’s middle-aged physician (Joseph Lorenz,) who is unnervingly receptive to her girlish flirtations.

“Paradise: Love” is the third in a trilogy, Ulrich Seidl’s thematic follow-up to “Paradise: Love,” focusing on Melanie’s horny sex tourist mother, and “Paradise: Faith,” following the daily life of the religious fanatic aunt (portrayed briefly in this film) who takes her love for Jesus into the realm of obsession. We fear for Melanie watching “Paradise: Hope.” Desperately hoping that she will not get over her head pining for this older man.

Never during the conversations between the fat camp teens do we get the impression that they are acting. They talk, look, and feel like real people- making themselves out to be more experienced then they are, discussing past escapades with a knowing air, playing spin the bottle giddily while drunk on cheap beer.

This is a movie that understands teen angst and desire and the mad contrast in the level of experience and sexual maturity of adolescent kids (while Melanie’s friend plays the part of an adult, wise in the ways of men, another camp girl still walks around clad in a pink Hello Kitty shirt and many of the kids remain hopelessly naive.)

The teens alternately understand a lot and see a lot more than the adults give them credit for and don’t know a damn thing- about love, about relationships, about the forbidden power a child can have over an adult. Melanie craves tenderness. She wants to feel loved and desired by this aging but virile man. Her instructor’s desire is less emotional, more carnal.

A bit of a dirty old man, he finds attentions from a virginal thirteen-year-old almost to much too resist. The viewer desperately watches events unfold, afraid for Melanie’s sexual and emotional health. Will the object of her affections play the part of a classic predator, everything your mother ever warned you about… or a blessing in disguise?

An almost complete lack of music reigns over this dark but tremulously hopeful story. There’s lots of shots of the teens trying to get into shape while their instructor (Michael Thomas) sternly guides them, eating low fat food in the dining hall, and chatting in their dorms, with few intimate close-up’s, giving an almost fly-on-the-wall feeling to the film. The performances are naturalistic and restrained, showing burgeoning promise in Melanie Lenz.

I wish people online would stop describing Melanie’s character as trying to ‘seduce’ her pediatrician. That man was sending Melanie signals loud and clear, in a playful but totally inappropriate way. Look at the scene where the man follows her hungrily into the woods, looming threateningly in the frame, predatory even as she casts looks upon him beseeching him to follow her. Melanie’s girlish ignorance of the consequences of her crush remain abundantly clear despite her pursuit of the much older man.

Melanie is a kid, for all intents and purposes, albeit a curvy, physically mature one. As far as I’m concerned this is a movie about a flirtation that wouldn’t have gone nearly so far had the adult acted in a grown-up way and gently rebuffed the child from the get-go.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this film was the ending. It seemed to end a bit too cryptically, even by European art film standards and I wasn’t wild about the strange and slightly creepy way it went down. Somehow a story revolving around sexual tension between an adult and a child manages to avoid being gross and exploitative- until that scene in the bar. It’s one of those films where you ask, is the hero-slash-heroine going to be okay?- and in this case you just don’t know.

Though slightly less dark than “Paradise: Faith” (I watched the trilogy all out of order, leaving the first installment for last,) “Paradise: Hope” has it’s share of uncomfortable moments and taboo subject matter. For the most part, though, it establishes director Seidl as less of a creepy old man with a camera and more as an observer of life- the discomforting parts, the parts maybe not everybody can talk about, even the ugly parts- to not sordid, but spectacularly real effect. It’s a story that couldn’t have been told in America, and are you really going to fault it there? Controversial, but more palpable that you might think considering the subject matter.

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Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth DVD

Beware, 80’s kids- I am here to pick apart your childhood classic. There is so much wrong with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Mind, there are moments of creative genius at play too, and the puppetry aspect of the film is, well… quite cool, even for a cynic like me. But it’s pretty sad when puppets outshine Jennifer Connelly’s Godawful acting and David Bowie’s mannered affectations as Jareth, the codpiece-donning goblin king (what the Hell people? This is a kid’s movie, is there really room for a villain with his pants stuffed so as to  make his dick look big?)

Sarah (Connelly,) a bratty adolescent deep in the throes of puberty-induced teen angst, calls on the goblin horde from her favorite book to take her perpetually crying baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) away when she is forced to babysit him one stormy night. Much to her chagrin, the goblins, who are- unbeknownst to her- very real- take Toby away to the Goblin King (David Bowie)’s castle. Spurred on by regret and concern for her brother’s well-being (and for the allowance cut she will most certainly receive if her father (Christopher Malcolm) and step-mother (Shelley Thompson,) like, totally come home to find their son gone,) Sarah is taken to a magical land where she much brave the labyrinth- and Jareth’s cunning charms- in order to save her brother.

This seems like mostly a vehicle for musician David Bowie (Bowie sports lip gloss and awful hair, and, for no particular reason at all, bursts into song in several instances,) and I’ve heard rumors that Bowie regrets the project to some extent. I can see why. Allegedly the movie is a fantastical portrayal of the labyrinthine trials of puberty, and the connections are all too obvious. Connelly (who was better off going ass to ass in “Requiem for a Dream,”) can’t act to save her life poor dear.

She hems, haws, and blinks vacuously, but to be fair, the damage isn’t entirely her fault- the scriptwriter gives ‘Sarah’ the most inane lines imaginable. Moreover, unlike fantasy stories like “Harry Potter,” the ‘great evil’ (I.e. Jareth) that Sarah fights doesn’t seem that sinister at all. Weird and gay, yes. Sinister, no. Sure, Jareth wants to turn Sarah’s baby brother into a goblin and the sexual tension between him and Sarah seems Borderline pedo, but he fails as a truly malevolent or interesting presence. When Sarah meets up with him for the big confrontation, he spends half of the time singing (!) and the other half being humbled in the presence of her womanly power.

It’s bad when the most threatening presence in a film that strives to be epic fantasy is a stench-emitting, farting bog. That said, the puppets are wonderful. My personal favorite, Didymous the mace-wielding Chihuahua, was a steady mix of cute and cool. It was just so easy. Pit Sarah against any legit fantasy villain- Voldemort, Sauron, the baddies from Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”- and she would crumble like the inconsequential schoolgirl she is. Jareth’s main powers consist of looking fabulous and talking you to death, with an extra helping of ‘blah.’

“Labyrinth” leaves me conflicted in that I want the movie studios to bring puppetry back and use it on a better movie, My review is unfair in that the film didn’t have a part in my childhood, and fair for the exact same reason. Sentimentality can muddle your perception of the way things are. And “Labyrinth,” my friends, is no classic. You are free to leave comments championing your nondescript piece of whimsy. if you wish. It’s all the same to me. The puppets, the sets, some of the creative elements were awesome, sod all the rest.

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Hick (2011)


Contrary to the brutally negative reception for this film, I found “Hick” to be a solid film with a powerful theme and an engrossing main character. I actually thought it was better than the director’s earlier effort, “Lymelife” (2008.) Rory Culkin gave it his best shot, but the Suburban family dysfunction motif is so ‘done,’ and y’know, Emma Roberts plays the same damned character in every freaking movie she’s in.

The often-overlooked Culkin brother is in this too in a small part, but Chloe Grace Moretz runs the show as Luli, a sexually provocative yet heartbreakingly vulnerable 13-year-old and the product of drunk loser parents (Anson Mount and Juliette Lewis) living in small town, Nebraska. Disenchanted with her going-nowhere life, Luli hitches a ride from a limping young man (Eddie Redmayne,) a decision which turns out to be the most dire of her life.

Chloe Grace Moretz is a good little actress, although she still has a lot of room to improve, and seeing her flounce around in her underwear and act sexually precocious might bother a lot of people. But it’s important to remember that Moretz is not a little girl anymore, and is gradually working her way into more mature roles (maybe a little faster than we would like.)

Pubescent Moretz provokes controversy.

Luli is a dynamic character. Early on, as she points her revolver in the mirror and quotes lines from famous films, we see a girl who has been hurt to many times, and needs a lifeline of any kind to stay afloat. Later, when she asks her mother’s boyfriend if she’s pretty, our heart aches for her- we want to be there for this lonely, desperate girl, yet can only watch her fumble and fight with the challenges of an unusual adolescence through the screen.

Unfortunately, the other characters are singularly nasty and unlikable, almost unbearably at times. Most of them seem to exist primarily to abuse, let down, and exploit Luli, to the exclusion of anything else. Redmayne gives a good performance as Eddie, the boy who picks Luli up, but by the end it is impossible to feel any sympathy for him.

Just because we are traveling from one little hick town to another, does that mean the men can’t show a little chivalry towards a struggling teenage girl? It is disturbing, but also ludicrous, how each odd character Luli meets seems to be indescribably broken and mean spirited. That said, I never got bored during this movie, and was fascinated by Moretz’s little traveler.

I’ve liked Moretz since “Kick-Ass,” and she shows maturity and screen presence as the lead character. Watch this for her and Redmayne, if for no one else. While Redmayne is appropriately vile, the film finds an unlikely heroine in Luli, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet, but always compelling.

The Way, Way Back (2013)

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After a rocky, strident beginning, “The Way, Way Back” straightens itself into a pretty darn lovable movie, which also has the honor of giving a decidedly dark and against-type role to funnyman Steve Carell. Carell plays Trent, the verbally abusive, passive-aggressive boyfriend of needy Pam (Toni Collette.) The abuse perpetrated by Trent is not directed towards Pam but towards her self-conscious 14-year-old son, Duncan (Liam James.)

Duncan is in that awkward stage of youth where just about every phrase uttered by him is monosyllabic and he’s at a loss to talk to anyone, especially girls. Trent is frequently hostile and bullying but plays nice in front of Pam, who doesn’t seem to notice the behavior. Trent takes Pam, Duncan, and Duncan’s bitchy daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin) (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I suppose) to vacation home for the summer.

Surrounded by unbearable adults, including an alcohol-guzzling floozy (Allison Janney) and Trent’s insufferable friends (Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry,) angst-ridden Duncan loiters at the theme park Water Whizz, and is befriended by the park’s wise-cracking manager Owen (Sam Rockwell.) Owen recognizes a kid in need of support in Duncan and offers him a job. The summer proves to be empowering and life-changing for Duncan, who even falls in love for the first, with the floozy neighbor’s attractive and similarly disaffected daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb.)

The beginning scenes are a little bit on the overcooked side, as we are introduced to an assortment of dingy grown-up’s, each with the apparent identical goal of making Duncan’s life as awkward as possible. It’s hard to believe anyone could be this stupid, or at least with such a lack of subtlety, even Kip and Joan, who we are led to believe are incessantly high.

There is a definite improvement in storytelling and substance about thirty minutes in, when Duncan breaks away from Trent’s asinine friends and neighbors and starts spending a numerable amount of afternoons with Owen. Owen might be a bit childish and hedonistic, but he’s exactly what Duncan needs to develop a sense of self-worth and confidence.

Owen also knows that strictly verbal abuse can be as harmful as physical blows, and he tries to help Duncan move past Trent’s taunts. Duncan’s conversations with Susanna are cute not because of what he says but because of what he doesn’t say, which is basically anything of discernible value. So paralyzed by shyness is Duncan that he is reduced to mumbling “I guess” and “I dunno” and babbling about the weather. We’ve all been there, but what makes  the duo so charming is that the incredibly patient Susanna still likes Duncan, still LIKE likes him, not I-want-to-go-to-the-movies-as-friends likes him. For a kid who barely even likes himself, that’s a small miracle.

“The Way, Way Back” might have a little bit of the “Juno” syndrome, where witticisms are a bit too pithy to be natural (nevertheless, haters, I still love “Juno”) and the script might have some sitcom-y moments, but it is still a charming coming-of-age story for those whose movie tastes run toward the quirky and the droll.. There should certainly be more Owens in the word, who can see the  good and the worthy in the most gawky adolescent. If that were the case, my teen years might have been a Hell of a lot less miserable.

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Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) (1999)

I’ll go ahead and admit as a bad filmgoer and reviewer that I have never seen “Vivre Sa Vie” (“My Life to Live”) by Jean-Luc Godard, and I considered watching it to get some perspective before reviewing “Set Me Free.” “Set Me Free,” though not directly related to “Vivre Sa Vie” thematically, is the story of a frustrated young girl who becomes fascinated with the prostitute character, Nana, in Godard’s classic.

It’s also about growing up. And sexual awakening. And youthful confusion. And the moment as a child when you realize that you can’t save the grown-ups in your life; sometimes, you can only help them along while they choose to sink or swim, to fight against the current, or drown. It’s about the way movies influence young people, and how it’s often the one’s you wouldn’t expect that change their ideology, for better or worse.

Hanna (Katrine Vanasse) is a knowing yet naive 13-year-old who lives with her thief brother, Holocaust survivor father, and suicidally depressed mother in France. The year is 1963. Her father (Predrag Manjlovic) has a iron grip on the household. On the other hand her mother (Pascale Bussières) is as submissive and weak as her father is dominating. In an opening scene, Hanna gets her first period near her grandparent’s house, and shortly after goes back home to her parent’s.

While she was hardly happy at her grandma and grandad’s, things go from bad to worse at home. Her dad is a pretentious, lofty, and generally bad writer who fancies himself a great artist, and her mom is one twitch away from a complete nervous breakdown. Her brother Paul is a petty thief. In an opening act of general assholery, Hanna’s father spits at her mother that her’s is ‘mongoloid family’ because her brother (Hanna’s Uncle Martin) has Down Syndrome (I told myself that ‘Mongoloid’ was not such an offensive term back in the 60’s, but nah, it’s still not excusable.)

When Hanna goes to the theater and sees “Vivre Sa Vie” for the first time, she falls in love- with the movies, Anna Karina, and with Karina’s ‘glamorous’ character. From what I saw of the film within this film she is totally misreading the message of the movie, as her teacher tries to point out. But as a confused kid (sexually and in life) looking for a role model, it makes sense.

Boy, did the child actor knock it out of the park here! Hanna was a sweetheart. From what I understand, the child actress was sixteen when she did this movie, and in fact, she looks childlike in some shots and more womanly in others, probably a intentional decision on the part of the director. Hanna’s father insists on masculinizing his daughter, cropping her hair down to boy length (the hair-cutting scene reminds me of the one in “Ma Vie En Rose.”) As Dad cuts, a silent tear runs down Hanna’s cheek, and she gradually is made to feel a little more helpless.

Hanna propositions a man, maybe in hopes for a normal life or because it is the ‘thing to do’ as a girl, but exchanges intimate kisses with a female friend (Charlotte Christeler.) Does that mean she is bi, simply confused, or something else. Fed up with her family, Hanna runs away, but will a life on the streets be easier or harder than she was looking for?

The acting was fabulous, but I wished the ending had offered a little more. There seemed to be a real lack of realization, and everything get’s better quite abruptly. What was learned, except that being a ho’ isn’t all it’s cut out to be? It’s nice to have a happy ending for such a lovely character, but the story doesn’t seem to have the most logical conclusion.

“Set Me Free” is well made and most of all bittersweet and sad. It’s is based on the director Lea Pool’s life, so that makes it this much more authentic. I would love to know if filmmaker Lea Pool is gay, because that would shine a light to better understand the sexual elements of this movie. Note- You can watch this on Huluplus. Otherwise it is not available on DVD as far as I know. I hope you get the chance to watch this powerful film. Thank you.