Teenage Blues Triptych: The Pom Pom Girls, Blue Summer, & The Last American Virgin
Growing up is hard. Not as hard as losing a limb while in the middle of guerrilla warfare, hosting an especially ugly intervention, or wrangling a rogue Osmond, mind you, but still. It can be some rough stuff. Adolescence is painful and being a teenager? Forget it. Youth is something that you get often punished for. The prison-like approach of public schools coupled with the pressure of being forced to know exactly what you should be grabbing for your adult life are just some of the unfair things you weather. Hormones and trying to establish a sense of true self makes it all a fairly spicy combination.
Being a teenager is also that prime time to rebel, explore and build up those emotional scabs that will heal into some good, thick scars to learn from in your adult years. Nailing all of the above in an honest way that stands out from the wild, woolly pack of modern teen films reigns supreme in its trickiness. Many of the teen films I grew up were often alien to my own existence. Films like Return of the Living Dead (1985) or Liquid Sky (1982) were more relatable than any John Hughes flick or even worse, Cameron Crowe’s faking-the-funk script for the apogee-of-overrated, Fast Times at Ridgmont High (1982). (Seriously, if you subtract Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates' nudity and Judge Reinhold in general, it would fall flatter than a souffle served to you by King Frat himself.) Both Return of the Living Dead and Liquid Sky dealt with themes of alienation more honestly than a lot of teen-based films of the 1970’s and 80’s.
But not all of them.
In fact, there are three very notable films that are intertwined by their naturalism, hormonal verve, and the growing pains that come with the slings and arrows of transcending from child to adult. These films are also united by being some of the most overlooked and undervalued of the sub-genre, with only two of the three netting a Blu Ray release by the year 2018. Poorly received by critics, which is often the fate of a film that only gives you some of what you want but will most definitely give you everything you deserve.
1976’s The Pom Pom Girls is the light before the long, sad-eyed though glorious Teenage Blues Triptych tunnel. It’s also a fascinating film, combining an air of naturalism, likable but realistically flawed characters, and a slight dash of teenage whimsy to help keep the proceedings breezy. Written and directed by Joseph Ruben, who would go on to helm the Edsel of teen-sex-comedies, Gorp (1980), as well as the taut horror film, The Stepfather (1987), The Pom Pom Girls may center around the titular girls of pep, but it is so much more.
The opening shot begins with a fiery football player effigy being dropped off the school roof, thanks to the rival team from Hardin High. It’s a stark and ugly way to open a film entitled The Pom Pom Girls. In other words, it is a veritable valentine to its audience. The flaming ghastly ends pretty quickly as the film cuts to the girls rounded up beach side in bikinis, practicing their cheers while footage is inter-cut with the football team practicing right before the school year begins. These scenes paint an instant picture of two important characters in this film. The football coach, played by prolific character actor James Gammon, is a slight-head case with his air-and-brain-ways filled with power trip assholery.
The other character is Johnnie, who may be one of the most affable high school football players in film history, largely thanks to a blazing performance by Robert Carradine. An underrated actor, Carradine’s natural charisma, and innate talent shine like an active volcano here. His Johnnie is alternately cocky, vulnerable, impulsive, and so lovably gangly. Our introduction to him is seeing him practice with the Coach yelling “Move it! Move it!” while Johnnie is running and muttering under his breath, “fuck you...fuck you...” Johnnie’s that best friend that you love fiercely even though he is what psychologists refer to as a “Teflon screw-up.”
Joining Johnnie in day-to-day quests for fun, burgers, love, and occasional trim is his bestie and fellow teammate, Jesse (Michael Mullins). On paper, Jesse is your 1970’s prototype of a high school Lothario, right down to this pimped out van with a bed in the back. In actuality, he still is, but Mullins' performance coupled with some of the character touches from Ruben makes Jesse as cocky as he is insecure and petulant. In short, you know, like an actual teenager.
The girls, while all really beautiful (hey, this is still a 1970’s drive-in film called The Pom Pom Girls), they are also mercifully Becky free. What is a Becky? A Becky is a muy irritating daddy’s girl whose insecurities are often masked by vices such as condescension, shallowness, and plebeian tastes. Just ask Sir Mix-a-Lot. Of the girls, the two that capture Johnnie and Jesse’s attention and hearts are Sally (Lisa Reeves) and Laurie (Jennifer Ashley).
Sally is a classic 1970’s era, Californian girl. She's all flaxen-haired, blue eyes, and sporting a perma-stoned grin. All that’s missing is a back pocket full of Tuinols and an orange-red skateboard. Her boyfriend Dwayne (1970’s exploitation-film stalwart Bill Adler), is none too keen on Johnnie’s blatant flirtation with his girl. Sally’s initial mild-irritation to eventual dumping Dwayne for Johnnie throws some big-sized rock salt into the wound. Over the course of the film, the two fist-fight in a dirty alley, fist-fight on the bleachers during a pep rally, have an aborted food-fight in the cafeteria and end up competing in a game of Suicide Chicken during the film’s climax. Typically, a character like Dwayne would be either a predatory Zabka-like bully or a beefy-alpha-male-lunk. Dwayne, though? Neither one. He’s considerably less impulsive than Johnnie and probably a bit saner. Also, the guy knows how to work on cars and again, Bill “Van Nuys Blvd” Adler.
Jesse chases Laurie off and on, despite being sidetracked by the occasional fling with another Pom Pom Girl, Sue Ann, played by future wife of the late jazz singer Al Jarreau, Susan Player. Strong willed, with wild dark hair and discerning taste in suitors, Laurie is instantly put off by Jesse’s bad reputation, referring to him as the “class stud” with a healthy portion of disgust. Even when some of the other girls, like Sue Ann and Roxanne (the ethereal and criminally underutilized here, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith), get all dreamy-eyed just being near the Van Master, Laurie is having none of Jesse or Johnnie’s nonsense.
Well, for a spell at least.
So many teen films were written from the point-of-view of what the writers wished high school life had been for them. Pranks and sexual hijinks can become so over the top that they border on gloriously brain dead surrealism. The Pom Pom Girls does not quite go there, but it does flirt with it. The highlight of which being the firetruck scene. Targeting their number one rivals and west-coast-pigskin-mooks over at Hardin High, the boys along with ¾ of the girls, visit the neighboring town, waltz into a fire station and effortlessly steal a fire truck, all with the aim of spraying down their rivals during football practice. Not only do they achieve this but also manage to evade the law in the form of Hardin Policeman, generic brand Roscoe P. Coltrane. It’s a funny sequence though it is a bit of a reach that none of the kids suffer any consequences for breaking more than a few laws in this adventure. Then again, it’s a cute-as-hell reach, so it all works out.
The charisma and natural-acting chops of the main cast, especially Carradine, anchor the film and do right by a refreshing though semi-flawed script. Helping cement this little film as a teenage-gem-in-the rough though is the camerawork and cinematography, all in the more than capable hands of Stephen M. Katz. Katz has lensed everything from Jack Hill’s 1975 classic, Switchblade Sisters to Bill Condon’s 1998 film, Gods & Monsters. More than capable hands is an easy descriptor with a director of photography like Katz.
The Pom Pom Girls is a film that goes beyond its exploitation-style clothing. Granted, it doesn’t go wickedly beyond, but it has enough respect for the audience to have characters who make both good and bad decisions and even grow-up a little bit in the process in ways that feel more authentic and less hackneyed. It’s also proof that Robert Carradine should have been a much bigger star. He’s absolute magic here.
From dirt bike roads and grand theft auto to an all American coming-of-age road trip story, Chuck Vincent’s 1973 film Blue Summer is a heart-smart, funny, but also occasionally somber movie. Vincent has a thoroughly impressive filmography, including gems of both the Golden Age of Erotica (Farewell Scarlett, Roommates, In Love) and R-rated sex comedies (Student Affairs, Cleo/Leo, Sex Appeal). Out of his numerous directorial efforts, Blue Summer aka The Love Truck is one of the more obscure and wrongly so.
That said, being promoted as a trashy sexploitation film about “young bodies on the prowl” that “pay by the mile” didn’t help matters. (As fantastically sleazy as that kind of byline is!) The film does have a healthy amount of sensuality with two protagonists fresh-outta-high-school having one last hurrah before going to college and adulthood. But this is Chuck Vincent at the helm, a man noted for incorporating characters with nuance and heart, often in film genres that “serious critics” typically don’t give a second glance at.
In other words, The Pigkeeper’s Daughter this ain’t!
I know when I first saw it, back in the early 2000’s, I went into it expecting some fun and low-grade/low-budget, trashy kitschy sleaze that only the 1970’s could provide. What I got instead was a compelling story with two warm and relatable leads and a wise leadership from director/writer Vincent. There is plenty of nudity and roadside shenanigans for your more prurient desires, but this film’s heart is bigger than its groin. For the most part.
The core of Blue Summer are best friends and overall good eggs Tracy (Darcey Hollingsworth aka Davey Jones) and Gene (Bo White). The film’s opening frames begin in darkness that is quickly illuminated as Tracy opens the garage door at his parents' to get his newly festooned van out in preparation for their epic road trip to Stony Lake. True to life for an 18-year-old living at home from a lower-middle class family, Tracy’s van looks like it has weathered at least a decade of dust and use. This is not a pimp van, though his attempts to make it one are charmingly low-rent. There’s the crude sound system which is rigged together with wooden boards, a tape player and a loudspeaker roughly secured to the top of the roof. The real cherry on top is the van being resplendent with extremely 70’s-style stickers of flowers, Mickey Mouse, and some white letters forming the vessel’s newly christened name, “The Meat Wagon.” Tracy’s mom dotes on him before he leaves, even handing some extra “just in case” money, before yelling out while he starts to leave, “Tracy, what the hell did you do to that bus?!?”
In contrast to Tracy’s sweet, though mildly concerned mom, Gene’s parents come across, at best, horrible and at worst, future true crime fodder. In a cloud of second-hand chain smoke, his parents bitch and moan and nag. First at their son and then at each other. They are so absorbed in their dysfunctional cesspool that they don’t even notice Gene grabbing the in-use coffee pot, toaster, and several bottles of strong-looking vodka. As he meets up with Tracy outside, he says, “Let’s go! The shit’s about to hit the fan!!” and then adds, “I hate the sight of blood!” as the air is littered with the house rockin’ with domestic problems.
The boys' toast with some cold, cheap brews, “Here’s to incredible feats and chickies we meet!” (Drinking and driving were more casual in the 1970’s. Just cue up some Bloodrock and a couple of cans of Hamm’s and you’re good to go!) Their journey is full of local color, including picking up some foxy runaways named Bea (Lilly Bi Peep, a one-time-wonder with a non-de-plume better suited for stag reels) and Sparky (Joann Sterling) with moxie-aplenty and sticky fingers. Girls in tow, they stop to help out a spooky biker (Jeff Allen), whom by the end of the movie ends up being the best guardian angel ripped on cheap speed and wearing swastika patches.
After the teenage grifters ditch the fellas for their new hosts/victims, the adventure continues. No matter what era you’re living in, if you are road tripping through small town America, you will run into some religious kooks. Luckily for Tracy and Gene, the main one they pick up is a long-winded happy capitalist whose white suit matches his toothpaste smile. The good man is from the Tabernacle of the Holy Souls, who apparently were a precursor to The Church of Subgenius, since he asks for their ten dollar entrance fee for “...up there.”
Speaking of shamen and charlatans, while changing a flat tire in a wooded area, the boys hear flute music. Following the notes, they stumble upon a long-haired guru flanked by two topless lovelies. He greets them with, “Welcome to my home. Let me introduce you to my women!” The man, whose name is the deliciously un-guru-like Roger (Larry Lima), initially declines their offer of beer but does accept their company and cigarettes. The flute plays on while the boys get friendly with redheaded Liza (Shana McGran) and dark-haired Deborah (Amy Mathieu). This scene is so warm and playful, with the four of them all kissing at the same time in a joint-group formation. The fact that Gene and Tracy are so comfortable with each other that there’s zero need for peacocking or any “back off homo” bigot-alpha-male moves makes their friendship even more beautiful and admirable.
The realities of hanging out with a cult whose leader espouses philosophies, like “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” hit the boys pretty loud and clear soon after the fun. Being smart lads, though, they manage to comically break down their tent and gear around the comatose Roger and his girls. They sneak off, shaking themselves free of the worst kind of moochy hippies. The hangover of the flower power movement was none too pretty by 1973. Mercifully, the boys don’t appear to suffer any further setbacks from Roger’s girls, particularly of the creepy-crawly-itchy variety.
The next leg of their journey leads them to meet a good looking, golden-haired cool cat named Fred (Eric Edwards) at a no-name diner in a no-nothing town. Fred lets them know that the town is bereft of hot action, joking that the local women are locked up at sunset. Well, save for one. What follows is something that could very easily play out of a Charles Bukowski short story. Promising the boys that a local lady named Regina (Melissa Evers, who was also in the so bizarro it's good, must-see-midnight-oddity, 1975’s S.O.S. Screw on Screen) will be hot to trot if they bring two cases of beer. So, the three of them show up at what has to be the shittiest looking garage/shack in recent film memory for this fateful encounter.
This Regina, who is the living, dripping definition of a blowsy blonde, is one class act. If by class, you mean reeking of cheap booze and snapping bon mots like, “I could dance all fucking night!” When she’s not burping and badly dancing, she gets cranky with the boys and then proceeds to dance and more with a quite willing Fred. Gene and Tracy are resigned to tackle some sloppy seconds and thirds before a group of local rednecks show up for what can only be described as S.F. Brownrigg’s Swinging Sex Party and bully the two boys out. Gene, thinking smarter not harder, makes sure to alert Regina’s husband, who looks like the heftiest Bubba from the cast of Hee Haw, that something is going on in his garage. Gunshots ensue, rednecks flee, and Regina may or may not be dead. You will not find that in your dog-eared copy of Fodor's travel guide.
The idyllic shores of Stony Lake are soon reached, with Tracy immediately off to locate an attractive, older woman whom he had given directions to back in town earlier in the film. He finds her small, white cottage and the two have a touching love scene that is tinged with pregnant dread. Even the instrumental music used is more melancholy compared to the rest of the film’s more upbeat, rock-tinged score courtesy of an American band called Sleepy Hollow. Tracy’s post-coital bliss is immediately hampered as the look of instant regret washes over his lover's face as she stammers about how she’s never done anything like this before. It only gets worse as she insists on making lunch for him and after an excruciatingly awkward conversation, her son stops by. He and Tracy are clearly around the same age, with the latter leaving soon after.
While the grimmer aspects of adulthood are washing over poor Tracy, Gene is transfixed by a kooky, lithe blonde who keeps surprising him around the lake. The beauty refuses to give him her name or any personal details, resulting in Gene calling her Miss No Name (Chris Jordan, who was also married to Eric Edwards around this time). They make love with Gene clearly wanting to spend more time with her, only to be told that it’s “not possible” before she runs off for good.
Driving back home, Tracy notes that “There’ll be other summers!”, but Gene knows better. “No. Not like this one.” And he’s right because once you’re an adult, looking back is all you can do before moving forward. They toast to all of the characters they’ve met along the way, save for the two women of Stony Lake. The final toast is to school and freedom, with the van becoming quiet as our two men look sad and glumly resigned to a future that feels like it is already not purely their own to claim.
This film and that ending are sad-eyed gold. The themes of adult-reality and sacrificing personal freedom and will permeate throughout. The boys are going to different colleges, all due to having to attend their fathers' alma mater. Both of them are clearly not ready for college, but have acquiesced to the familial pressure of “this is what you have to do.” There are adults all around them who have made a mess of their lives. Gene’s parents are miserable as hell, Regina’s probably dead, and Tracy’s older lover is trapped and neglected in a loveless marriage that she sees no way out of. The one big exception is the biker, who just creeps, drifts, and then commits acts of surprise heroism. Tracy and Gene’s fates are up in the air, leaving the audience with the thin hope that the two will see outside their parents status quo-expectations prison.
If The Pom Pom Girls is a light slice of 70’s teenage-life and Blue Summer is a fun but melancholy last gasp of coming-of-age, then 1982’s The Last American Virgin is a stylish, emotional gut-punch whose reverb remains heart-strong long after you finished watching it. If you told a bunch of cineastes at a party that The Last American Virgin has a similar poignant and devastating effect of something like most of the John Cassavetes' catalog, you may get some quizzical looks or even worse, derisive snorts. They can shuffle right off because they are wrong. It was promoted as another wacky teenage-sex-comedy with a killer soundtrack, which featured The Cars, The Gleaming Spires (a tremendously underrated band), The Police, The Plimsouls, Devo, just to name a few. (Seriously, this movie is so good that it makes REO Speedwagon’s Sears Roebuck schmaltz hit, “Keep on Loving You” work. That is borderline cinematic witchcraft.)
So on one hand, sure, The Last American Virgin fits that bill. There are themes of sex and virginity, paired with a kicky soundtrack. But it is also one of the rawest and most honest films about being a teenager ever made. It’s right next to Over the Edge (1979) and Rene Daalder’s Massacre at Central High (1976) when it comes to masterfully made films that deal with the harsher realities of growing up in post-Vietnam America. Ironically, all three of the above were directed by men who are not from the United States. The Last American Virgin was helmed by Boaz Davidson, who was born in Tel Aviv. Davidson first came to prominence with his 1978 film, Lemon Popsicle. Set in 1950’s Israel and based on some of Davidson’s real-life experiences growing up, Lemon Popsicle was a massive hit and would go on to have eight, count’em, eight sequels.
It was so successful, that it would go on to net its own remake in America, thanks to the great Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus over at Cannon Films. The Go-Go Boys are partially to thank for The Last American Virgin getting made! Getting Davidson to write and direct it? Even better. In lesser hands, this would have been weakened considerably, but Davidson took his equally great original and used it to create something with equal heart, honest y, and a few more rows of sharp teeth. The golden-hued nostalgia of Lemon Popsicle is replaced with some keen-eyed Western cynicism sinking into nihilism.
Put your seatbelts on, because this is going to be a heartbreaker.
The film focuses on Gary (Lawrence Monoson). When he’s not delivering pizzas for The Pink Pizza, Gary is hanging out with his friends, cocky Rick (Steve Antin) and goofy David (Joe Rubbo, who really should have been in more movies). Like typical high schoolers hopped up on hormones and a little bit of fear, they spend their days and nights in the hopes of getting laid. But a wrench is thrown into the plan when he meets Karen (cult darling Diane Franklin). Johnny Thunders once warned not to mess with cupid, but Gary is already doomed. He manages to net giving her a ride to school, via him letting the air out of her bike’s tire. Gary gets the gumption to ask her out to a party later that night. She gives him a polite brush-off, saying she already has “plans.”
Fate is the cruelest mistress, which Gary quickly learns as he sees Karen at said party, dancing with Rick and looking like the smittenest kitten. Rick is the same guy whom earlier in the film, responded to one girl telling him, pre-coitus, that she “wasn’t on the pill” with that he wasn’t either. In other words, this is not going to end well. Gary handles this like any of us would at 17/18 (or 35/36), by getting instantly shitfaced at the party, to the extent of worrying your one actually decent friend (that would be non-jabroni, David) and horrifying your parents.
The next day, the boys have an amusing interlude with an older, hot-to-trot pizza customer named Carmela (the always vivacious Louisa Moritz), that results in Rick and then David getting to bed her. Before Gary can sample the giving woman, her BIG boyfriend, Paco, comes home! The guys escape and unlike Blue Summer, the likelihood of murder seems pretty minimal. One cute touch is how scared David looks before getting seduced by Carmela, which Rubbo pulls off magnificently. For every cocksure Rick in the bunch, there are going to be a lot more David and Garys in this world.
Rick manages to not only con Gary in going on a double date, since Karen doesn’t want to go out unless her bespectacled, mega-babe friend Rose (Kimmy “Motherfucking” Robertson) tags along, but also poor, nerdy Victor (Scuz himself, Brian Peck) into lending them his vintage convertible Pontiac. After Gary has the awful experience of having to see the girl of his dreams neck with his buddy, beachside, Victor’s car ends up crashing into the ocean. (Jesus, maybe Victor’s the real bad luck Barney in this movie.)
Gary does manage to cockblock Rick, who was looking at borrowing Gary’s grandmother’s house to have some “alone time” with Karen. David and Gary both manage to tease Rick about “playing house” with Karen, while they brag about going to see a big breasted hooker named Ruby (Nancy Brock). Rick gets jealous and breaks his date with Karen to go with his buddies.
The movie up to this point has already had some good foreshadowing to the inevitable tragedy, right up to the party near the beginning playing “Better Luck Next Time” by Oingo Boingo. But this is where the big ugly is going to come in. Ruby is no hooker with a heart of gold but instead is a hard-bitten streetwalker whose very aura reeks of bad decisions, rough breaks, and Pall Malls. After securing the money, she takes them inside a grimy looking warehouse. Gary, who is clearly still a virgin, gets to have his introduction to lovemaking on a dirty couch with a woman barking at him to “Get those pants off!” The encounter is mercifully short but leaves him vomiting off to the side while David goes next. The fact that this leaves all of them with an infestation of crabs makes the whole proceeding especially horrid. But you know what else is horrid? Real life.
When trying to drown their new parasitic little buddies in the public pool does not work, the three of them go to a drug store where Gary manages to bumble his way to ask for the proper medication. Luckily they don’t live in the Bible Belt and the gregarious pharmacist laughs and helps them out. But crabs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes the dangers of unprotected sex.
Gary shows up at the usual diner, seeing Karen’s bicycle outside. But there’s no Karen, or Rick, for that matter, inside. Victor lets it slip that he saw the two of them head off to the football stadium. Being a heartsick fool, Gary goes over there, only to find his “best friend” about to deflower an unsure but ultimately willing Karen. The night only gets worse when his buddy finds him back at the diner, telling him that “I was the first one to get Miss Thing over there. I fucked Karen!”, while she is ordering some ice cream. Keeping it classy, Rick. Gary doesn’t handle this well and drives off, to the sad tune of “Just Once” by Quincy Jones. The refrain of “I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough” is going to haunt young Gary throughout the rest of this movie.
Rick’s lack of fondness for condoms or common human decency catches up to him, as Gary sees him give Karen a nasty brush off in the school library. He goes to comfort her while she is crying by her locker. She reveals that she’s pregnant and though he is taken aback, he immediately tells her that everything is going to be okay and he is going to take care of it. Gary confronts Rick, who is, quelle surprise, an asshole, and the two almost come to blows.
Utilizing a school ski trip as a perfect guise, Gary sets Karen up at his late grandmother’s house. He also goes with her to get her abortion arranged. Anyone that assumes that getting an abortion is a breezy thing, especially in 1982 (or 2018), should see this movie. The woman at the clinic is cold and blatantly judgmental, especially to Karen, who is clearly young and scared. This leads to one exquisite montage. Clean edits juxtapose Gary hustling to get the money to pay for Karen’s abortion, while she is crying and undressing, all set to U2’s “I Will Follow.”
“A boy tries hard to be a man/His mother takes him by his hand/If he stops to think he starts to cry/Oh why.”
The way Karen is being handled there is further emphasized by one shot of her going under that quick cuts to a close-up of a pizza being sliced. Bedside manner is something a lot of women and girls don’t get when it comes to their bodies. Gary goes to pick her up, bringing her a gift of a bag of oranges and a small Christmas tree, which is such a sweet and dorky touch. He gets to platonically play house with Karen while she rests up. She lets him know how much she appreciates him, calling him a “true friend.” He breaks down and tells her that he loves her. God, Lawrence Monoson is just pure emotion here. Naked vulnerability just pours out of him. He finally gets to kiss and hug the girl of his dreams.
Getting ready for her upcoming birthday party, he buys her golden heart locket, complete with a personalized inscription. The Plimsouls “Zero Hour” plays as he shows up to the party.
“It’s getting late, now it’s time to go/It’s over the top now, it’s out of control/Just a matter of time ‘til the zero hour.”
Zero hour indeed, because the preciousness of life and heart is something that can be completely altered in one moment. A twist of fate can murder your optimism and tear your heart to shreds. Gary goes looking for Karen, only to find her back in Rick’s arms in the kitchen. The quiet devastation that washes over him is beyond visceral. He then drives off into the night, tears running down his face as that goddamned Quincy Jones song plays again.
For anyone who has ever had their heart broken and gotten caught in a dream that quickly died, which really should be anyone who has a pulse and a not-totally-corroded heart, the slings and arrows Gary weathers hit so close to home. The unflinching honesty that Davidson gives us here is not needlessly cruel or exploitative, but instead is coming from someone who truly cares. A real artist/friend/lover will be real with you and real is exactly what you end up getting with this film.
Cinching all of this is the young cast, who are all absolutely perfect here, with the two sides of the coin being Monoson and Diane Franklin. Monoson nails his character so hard, making his pain wholly tangible. It’s mind-blowing to know that this was both his and Franklin’s first major film acting roles. Franklin is radiant as the sweet but intensely naive Karen. Side note, but I once actually got in a minor online debate over this movie, in particular, the actions of Karen. Listen, don’t be dumb like me. Your morning constitutional is infinitely more healthy and rewarding than arguing with ANYONE over the net. But there was some callousness about her ending up back with Rick. Is it a dumb decision? Yes. Is it a ridiculously bad decision. Absolutely but anyone who didn’t make some ill thought out, impulsive decisions, especially in their late teens is either a robot or lying or a lying robot. That’s part of the fabric of human pain is that we as a species can make some poor choices that are rooted in being blinded by our heart and loins. It happens and if one wants perfection in their fictional teens, then go watch the Disney Channel and keep living in that sanitized bubble.
In addition to having some airtight acting, writing, music, and directing, the film’s cinematography and art direction are especially striking. There are repeated tones and hues of bubblegum pinks, baby blues, and bright yellows, giving the inevitable death march of Gary’s dream and love a deceptive candy-like sheen.
Growing into the sea-legs of adulthood is never easy and while it’s not all agony and letdowns, it is also not all good times and rebellion either. It’s a spicy gumbo and when a film can nail any of that in a way that is both sincere and different like these three films do, then you know that you truly have something special. At the end of the day, we may be beaten, but we are never ever broken.
This piece was originally written and submitted in 2018 for Mike McPadden's epic TEEN MOVIE HELL book project. Due to space constraints, which if you are familiar with the book you will immediately understand since it is almost bigger than the Bible, this "triptych" got cut down to just the BLUE SUMMER section.
That said, the lives of the man outweigh the needs of the few because if you don't have it already, what are you waiting for? TEEN MOVIE HELL is more than just a fun film tome,...it's an essential one. Like so much of Mike's work, the amount of heart, smarts, and knuckle grease put in shines, both from the man himself as well as essential writers like Lisa Carver, Christina Ward, and especially Rachel Doughty-McPadden, just to name a few, cause they are all titans.
It's still in print, so please support both Mike's legacy as well as his estate.
THE POM POM GIRLS
BLUE SUMMER aka LOVE TRUCK
THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN