Sunday, December 11, 2005

Day 72: A Real Young Girl

A frank, graphic look at the burgeoning sexuality of a pubescent girl, A Real Young Girl is nauseating, appropriately so, in its treatment of youthful, pubescent eroticism.  The titular character, Alice, is home on her family's farm for her summer holiday from boarding school, and she spends a great deal of her time playing with herself, rubbing her naughty bits with household items while concocting elaborate sexual fantasies about those around her.  With its dreamy, unfocused, and blown-out photography conflating the textural details of a broken egg in the palm of Alice's hand or dead fly ridden flypaper with her genitalia, it feels like a standard exploitation movie from the 70s somehow got mixed in with the more extreme elements of David Lynch's work.  This is the film's greatest success, tingeing Alice's inexpert experimentations with a visceral sense of shame and disgust.

That the film is equally inexpert only adds to the overall sense of pubescent instability.  Because it has the same aesthetic as both cheap horror and porn, and it zooms in on details that would be more appropriate in the former, there's a continual sense of unease that mirror's the character's.  She's afraid of being caught, of being seen as a sexual being by her parents because it's clear that they'll react by reining her in.  And, as she's already bored and disgusted by her passive-aggressive mother and lecherous, philandering father, being held close to them would be a terrible fate.

While the movie is successful at capturing the feeling of adolescence, its plot is somewhat pedestrian and rote.  Alice lusts after a sweaty, muscular young man who works for the family.  She makes lewd advances, lifting her skirt at him, sitting on the ground without panties and her legs spread when he walks by, watching him pee, but he doesn't seem too interested given her age.  When he does notice her, it brings about his downfall, but, of course, he doesn't matter, really, since he's just a background player in Alice's adolescent self-absorption.  Were it not for the graphic nature of the film, this would be completely by-the-book, standard awakening of a young girl's sexuality fare.  That the movie is able to transcend such material by exploring it fully and realistically is to its credit.

The film darts in and out of Alice's real life and her fantasy life, and the fantasies are shockingly detailed.  One dreamscape has her bound by barbed wire, spread-eagled while the young worker places a rather large earthworm on her vagina.  This is the most extreme fantasy and one of the highlights of the film, but the other fantasies are no less, um, affecting.  And, given what we know about her family life, these sexual daydreams are actually rather unsurprising and logical.

A Real Young Girl is a hard film to shake once it's over.  It proceeds at a leisurely, dreamy pace that's quite seductive, while the totality of its emotional power is overwhelming.  One of the more interesting film's I've seen about young sexuality, it would make a good, more sophisticated companion piece to Heavenly Creatures.  Unfortunately it lacks inventiveness in its plotline; otherwise, it's a great, extreme film.

Day 71: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

If the pulsating synth score and prevalence of toggle switches in the frame isn't enough to clue you into the fact that this movie was made smack-dab in the middle of the 1980s, then the fact that Dan Hedaya and Vincent Schiavelli share screen time (with Christopher Lloyd!) surely will.  A pleasing draught of old-fashioned serial adventure clich├ęs, more square jaw than its retro-pastiche predecessors Indiana Jones or Star Wars yet also an uneven lampoon of these same conventions, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai isn't a great movie, but it has an internal consistency and a rock solid foundation that most other post-Lucas sci-fi/adventure movies fail to bring (Lucas's own post-Lucas endeavors included).  Additionally, the movie's made with an acute awareness of its roots, in a manner befitting the Commando Cody aesthetic.

Centered on neurosurgeon, rock star, physicist and all-around adventurer Buckaroo Banzai, the movie provides the audience with an opening crawl, setting up the various skills of this new kind of Renaissance man, and then plunges ahead with nary a look back.  This is to the movie's credit, since, if it paused to give us too much detail, the whole enterprise would sink under its own improbable weight.  I was confused more than once during Buckaroo Banzai, but the events never seemed to defy the logic of the world that was set up from the get-go, so it didn't matter.  It's admirable that, in as complex an alternate universe as this is, the movie was able to reveal quite a bit without any lengthy exposition at all, even if this revelation happens mostly in retrospect.

I also really liked the way the film was shot.  The action happened most often within the frame, without a great deal of cutting.  This gave it a very appropriate and very cool Howard Hawks-esque feel, and if not quite that good, at least the stately feel of an old film when sound was new and the actors had to stand around a random piece of set dressing in which the microphone was hidden.  It didn't exactly provide any legitimacy to the film, but it did make me sit up and take notice of the style at play and how that style interacted with the plot.

The plot in question is some ludicrous nonsense about an alien bad guy who's taken over the body of John Lithgow, giving Lithgow the chance to do what he does best: ham the fuck up.  He's way over the top, but fun as he speaks in a broad Italian accent, stomps about, and exaggerates his body movements.  Peter Weller, as Banzai, also gets to play to his strengths, though in his case it's an icy-cool deadpan heroism, quiet, calm, and rigid.  But Jeff Goldblum is certainly the most memorable here as a new recruit to Banzai's team.  It's a trademark, bumbling Goldblum performance, and he gets the film's funniest line, "Why is there a watermelon there?"

Though I liked the goony, tounge-in-cheek quality to the film (and the rough-edged special effects), the humor in it is scattershot at best with only a few hits to a bunch of misses.  The movie finds a nice, dryly humorous tone when it plays it straight; it's never explicitly trying for laughs and getting them by taking the idiotic premise seriously.  So when the movie launches into broader, more parodic kinds of jokes, it's disappointing and not really funny.

I enjoyed The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, but I didn't love it.  It had a weighty feel to it that was much welcome, since some movies set in the "real" world have a hard time establishing this kind-of well-observed tone.  It's definitely one of the best projects that emerged in the post Star Wars/Indiana Jones boom for both its sincerity and the way it eschews populist, audience pleasing concerns by going forward without waiting for us to catch up with it.  Even so, the material's just too slight and the increasingly jokey tone intrudes on whatever elements of dramatic tension there are.