New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
Here's something that many will consider a terrifying fact: teenagers are having sex. While most films dance around the issues or romanticizes it, there are a few that have boldly depicted the sexual lives of very young people. This year, Gia Coppola may be joining the other directors on our list, as her debut film Palo Alto (starring James Franco and Emma Roberts) is hitting theaters soon. Coppola's film, based on a short story by Franco himself, will follow a group of unsupervised kids who turn to drugs and casual sex for entertainment. And while we look forward to this unique spin on the subject, we have to give it up to a few folks who did it first. Here are five unforgettable movies about the sex lives of kids.
It Felt Like Love
In Eliza Hittman's feature directorial debut we meet Lila and Chiara, we meet two friends coming of age in Brooklyn, New York. The film follows both girls as they chart out different paths to their first sexual experiences. But the film is especially interested in the performative aspects of youth and sexual identity. Lila is as fascinating a character as she is heartbreaking, and her attempts to either be the woman she is growing into or the woman she thinks the young boys around her want (boys who are also performing their own identities) are often so authentic they're uncomfortable. The influence of Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl weighs heavy on the film, but Hittman's unique, contemporary sensibility peers through. Unlike some other films on this list, It Felt Like Love attempts to be more honest than cautionary, even if that honesty makes us squirm.
Johnathan Gurfinkel's intense Israeli drama centers on Gigli, the new girl looking to make a name for herself at school. A difficult film to endure at times, S#x Acts raises questions about sexual consent between teenagers. Gigli goes to greath lengths to gain popularity, and we watch as she pretends to be sexually uninhibited while often being taken advantage of or even raped on multiple occasions. Like many of these films, the focus is on these young people who seem to have little-to-no parental supervision. But the story gets even more interesting when parents get involved, either by choosing to do something, or choosing to look the other way.
If you took any course on feminism or film in college, here's hoping you got acquainted with Catherine Breillat. No stranger to controversial pieces (her debut feature, A Real Young Girl, was banned until 1999), Fat Girl stunned audiences with its stark depictions of young sexuality and violence. With a powerful final scene that intertwined both, Breillat's film certainly had its shocking moments. But some of the best scenes showed the conversations between two sisters (Anaïs and Elena), and offered up two very unique views on love and sex.
Anne Hathaway went from The Princess Diaries to this unbelievably indie tale (directed by Barbara Kopple) of super rich kids with nothing but time on their hands in the Pacific Palisades. Alongside Bijou Philips and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway played Allison Lang, a bored high school student who heads to the hood to find trouble and a crowd more interesting than her own. Havoc is as much about race and class in America as it is about sex, but all of these issues collide in a powerful way as Allison learns that crossing invisible borders is much more complicated than it looks.
Written by Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine, there can be no discussion about kids having sex in the movies without Kids, the movie. Larry Clark's directorial debut took on sexuality, AIDS, drugs, and New York City in a film that introduced many of us to Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson. Clark unflinchingly presents his subjects as young, free (to a fault), destructive, cruel, and beautiful. He captures the innocence of youth even as it's being corrupted by the curiousity of youth, and an overwhelming desire to be accepted.
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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.