50 Movies for 50 States Part Two: The `80s — #10 – Georgia, Film – Little Darlings

#10 – Georgia, Little Darlings

Little Darlings (1980), a Stephen Friedman/Kings Road production distributed by Paramount Pictures, written by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, with Tatum O'Neal, Kristy McNichol, Armand Assante, Matt Dillon and Cynthia Nixon, cinematography by Bedrick Batka, original music by Charles Fox, edited by Pembroke J. Herring, filmed in Atlanta and Covington, Georgia, and Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge, Georgia

Plot: Teenage girls from different sides of the tracks who meet at summer camp make a bet on who can lose their virginity first.

Teens. Sex. Although arguably those two combined ingredients were a recipe for movie success as far back as Frankie and Annette’s beach movies, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the teen sex comedy – also known as the teen sex “romp” – really saturated the landscape of cinema.

Select 100 movies at random from the 1980s and I guarantee at least 10 percent of those are going to be teen sex comedies. Teen sex romps were the `80s form of exploitation cinema – cheap, easy to produce and almost guaranteed to make a profit so long as there were teenagers to watch them. (Arguably their success also depended on ticket vendors willing to ignore the guidelines of the MPAA. Most teen sex comedies were rated R due to there frequent nudity and language, making them “inaccessible” to minors under the age of 17 – or so the ratings boards hoped although we all know this is far from the truth.)

Porky’s, released in 1982, is probably one of the most successful and well-known teen sex comedies. It is, however, not the first. Released the same year as Porky’s was Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Years before either of those films came the Israeli teen sex romp, Lemon Popsicle, released in 1978 and remade in 1982 as The Last American Virgin.

Lemon Popsicle shared much in common with Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with one of the major themes being the “quest” to lose one’s virginity (or, in the case of Fast Times and its female leads, just getting it over with.)

Two years before Fast Times at Ridgemont High came Little Darlings, another film dealing with the subject of a young girl’s transition into “womanhood.” Although Little Darlings contains a lot of the elements, in particular the plot devices, which would become standard in teen sex romps, it stands apart for a number of reasons – the acting, as well as a level of sensitivity that most other films in the genre lack.

That’s not to say that Little Darlings lacks the fun factor of a teen romp. There’s food fight. There’s a scene in which the little darlings steal condoms – opting, instead of trying to get at the individual packages behind the convenience store counter, to rip an entire condom dispenser off a bathroom wall. Also, there’s the scene in which Tatum O’Neil’s character Ferris fakes drowning in order to get an older lifeguard to perform CPR on her and somehow seduce him. Most of the film’s humor comes from the girls’ lack of knowledge about sex, like when 13-year-old hippy chick Sunshine (played by a very young Cynthia Nixon, of Sex and the City) asks one of the girls whether it hurt to lose her virginity, the response is incredulous. Of course not! Why would you even ask a question of that?

Most amusing to me was the claims by the other female campers – aside from the characters of O’Neil and McNichol — that they’ve all “done it.” Given that at least one of the campers looks to be all of 11-years-old, it would surprise me if all of the other girls even knew what sex was, let alone how to do it.

However, to lump Little Darlings in with other teen sex films would be doing the film a disservice. In the end, it’s hard to compare Little Darlings to something like Porky’s, despite the similarity in setup. Sex in Little Darlings – well … it’s serious business. Not serious enough to not wager money over, but serious enough that when it does comes down to do the deed, it becomes a moral dilemma for both Ferris and Kristy McNichol’s character Angel (“But don’t let the name fool ya!”).

Sex can be scary. Now there’s a message you’re not going to get from your average teen sex comedy.

(As an aside, interesting was the choice of suitors, as Angel targets a boy her own age – Matt Dillon, one year removed from his debut in Over the Edge — while the more “refined” Ferris opts to seduce a much, much older camp counselor. For an American movie, Ferris’s attempted seduction of a man more than twice her age, in a comedy of all things, is unusual – although sadly, not unrealistic.)

Both O’Neil and McNichol do an incredible job in their roles. Without their level of acting, Little Darlings would probably – I don’t want to say forgettable – but not the lost gem that it is and more of a curiosity. O’Neil, in particular, gives off the vibe of a much older woman, which is probably exactly how she was intended to be perceived. As the perceived “bad girl”, McNichol’s character is the perfect counterpoint to O’Neil’s character. Most impressive is when McNichol’s character lets her guard down in one-on-one scenes with Matt Dillon, allowing us to paint a more complex picture of her Angel.

I’d be remiss not to mention Little Darlings soundtrack, one of the main reasons why it’s never had a DVD release due to licensing rights– just a great selection of artists including Supertramp, The Bellamy Brothers, Blondie and John Lennon. Lennon’s haunting “Oh My Love” is used particularly well.

To those willing to seek it out – and there’s plenty of places to find it, if you know where to look — Little Darlings is certainly worth a screening. I’d be interested to hear a woman’s perspective on the movie, so if you’re a lady and you’ve seen this film, leave me a comment below. If Little Darlings fails anywhere, it’s in its all-too-convenient ending. But all in all, it’s a unique, well-made, well-acted film that more people should see. Its fans tend to be people who saw it when they were younger, but there’s still plenty that a young person could take away from the movie today — even if that’s just a huge crush on the movie’s two leads.

I’m speaking, of course, as if I were a teenager. That’s not creepy, right?

Fun facts: Director Ronald Maxwell would go on to direct both Gettysburg and Gods & Generals. What the fuck is that all about? Who goes from a humorous but tender coming-of-age tale to a civil war epic? Either Maxwell is the most talented and versatile director ever or he’s batshit insane.

Also, at about the 35-minute mark, there’s an “accidental” nip slip by a then-underage O’Neil. Incidentally, that last sentence is probably going to bring this site all the wrong kinds of traffic. But I’m just telling you so you know when to look away.

From the soundtrack: “One Way or Another” performed by Blondie

 Next week: Hawaii


50 Movies for 50 States Contest Scoreboard

Each Tuesday, at some random time, I post one or more screenshots from the movie I’m going to review the next day. First one to guess the film gets 2 points. At the end of all 50 states, the person with the most points wins a prize yet-to-be-determined.

This week’s winner of my weekly Twittertastic guessing game is @GCDB, which stands for Grindhouse Cinema Database. What is the Grindhouse Cinema Database? It’s “The Classic-International Exploitation and Cult Film Wiki-Zine.” Check. It. Out. If you’re anything like me you’ll be blissfully lost within minutes amongst pages and pages of reviews and information about some of the most far-out films ever made — from blaxploitation to nunsploitation and every kind of “ploitation” in between. It’s a blast.

@iceybloop – 2

@ZeekZombieMan – 1

@DraconicVerses – 2

@VicarOfVHS – 2

@ghwalters – 2

@lowdudgeon – 2

@unclegeeky – 2

@LCosgrove – 2

@GCDB – 2

Want to play? Follow Matt on Twitter at @CM_MattDunn.

Click here for the Instant Gratification archive.

Click here for the 50 Movies for 50 States archive

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