“The guy who's got the biggest tool, he's the one who wins the pool!”
907Raunchy teen comedies. What ever happened to them? Proliferating in the early eighties, influenced heavily by the seminal Animal House (1978) but morphing into their own sub-genre off the back of the equally seminal Porky’s (1982) the feature of tonight’s review, The Last American Virgin, which fits squarely in its own defined parameters, is, in fact, a remake of the Israeli film Lemon Popsicle (1978) which was one of the very first films I saw on VHS back when there was no regulation. Re-written and updated for the American teen audience by the original director, it was Boaz Davidson’s hope that it would spawn a series of sequels in the US as it had in Israel; but alas, it failed to ignite the same passion and fell quietly by the wayside where it has remained ever since. It is clear why the film was never as successful as its peers - simply the story; whist raunchy and comedic in most of the right places, it does take a sudden and unexpected left turn into some quite serious matters, and then, ends quite suddenly on a very sour note – compare this to any of its ilk and you will find that it stands alone in this regard. The early eighties, when this film was made and set, were typically about excess and enjoyment, there was very little about consequence and ‘Virgin’ confronts this head on in its latter third, so the modern (at the time) audience was clearly not ready for it. But even looking back now, this switch in tone and sudden ending are quite jarring (even if they are faithful to the original film and the autobiographical inspiration) which muddies any potential message the film might be trying to convey. So, ladies and gentlemen, roll up your jacket sleeves and pop your collar as we snort our way into tonight’s feature: The Last American Virgin.
The film opens up to our main protagonist, Gary, as he hassles his boss for the use of the delivery car for the night - for any wheels, even ones designed to deliver pizzas, are better than none. Right from the off we know which decade we’re in, even if you hadn’t lived it, the big hair, shoulder pads, leggings and garish colours would give it away. Gary is young and he and his mates have narrow aspirations: they wish to party, have fun and, above all, get laid. That night, at the local diner, we are introduced to his best mates, Rick and David. Gary, himself, is played by a fresh faced Lawrence Monoson, who went on to have a prolific career in TV and whose own innocence shines through as the virgin from which the film takes its name. Gary is the quintessential ‘nice guy’, likeable, friendly and helpful, not just to his mates, but to everyone – his respected and intelligent, is a little timid, quite sensitive, and has morals beyond that of his closest mates. Rick, on the other hand, is far more head strong, more of a ‘jock’ type, he is brought to life by Steve Antin (probably best known for Troy in The Goonies 1985) who gives him arrogance and authority, showing none of the sensitivity that is Gary’s trait, i.e. a ‘bad boy’ – typically the ‘leader’ of the group he is the one with the confidence to get the girl, and it is this confidence that wins him the hearts, and open legs, he so desperately craves. Then there is David, their chubby mate, played by Joe Rubbo (who disappeared into obscurity) who, in other features, due to his size, would normally be the point of ridicule, but here is an integral member of the team. He is charming and confident, if a little hapless; but he, together with the other two make quite a formidable, if unconventional seduction team. They deceive three girls with the promise of drink and drugs (cocaine of all things!) and take them back to Gary’s parent’s house in a set piece that has its roots in, and has been copied by, ‘naked teen comedy’ the world over. There is no need for me to go into detail, suffice to say there is plenty of ‘drug’ taking, innuendo, naked boobs, sex and riotous comedy at the expense of returning parents.
These opening scenes are crucial in setting the scene for the film that is about to come; the characters are well defined and their group dynamic is set; the tone is light, comedic and frivolous – so far exactly what you would expect from this type of film. There are also some genuinely funny moments, especially if you are a kid of the eighties! But in amongst the laughs there are signs of pathos, Gary sees, for the first time, Karen, whom he instantly falls for, and his pining forms part of the backbone of the story to come – sometimes painfully true to watch. But, and here is the rub, there are no signs of the curve ball that will be thrown towards the latter half, maybe a little foreshadowing might have been useful to prepare the audience for what is in store.
Karen is played by future ‘scream queen’ Diane Franklin and like most of the main cast this was her first feature. She is sweetly pretty with a temperament of a girl who wants to explore the world and her sexuality, and this makes her oblivious to those that might make life partners, but draws in those that only wish to use her. Being new to the local school, Karen is an instant hit with the boys, all of whom fall for her charms, only Gary falls that little bit further. He even goes out of his way to sabotage her moped one morning just so he has the chance to drive her to school and get to know her. The drive goes well, there is a nice chemistry between them and Gary is witty, charming and feels they have hit it off. Unfortunately for him, at a party later that same evening, Karen is with his friend Rick, whose roguish nature are more in line with what Karen feels she wants. A poignant set up that is very true of a certain girl of a certain age; I’m sure we’ve all seen it and been there, and Gary, as nice as he is, unwittingly finds himself at one corner of a love triangle with a girl that can’t see him and a best mate he now wants rid of. Interspersed amongst some more riotous sex comedy (notoriously the ‘killing the crabs’ scene and the ‘nymphomaniac neighbour’) there are some very tender scenes exploring this triangle and where it will lead – Gary tries to get noticed by Karen and all the while dissuade Rick from his one and only desire to have sex with her; he wants to save the girl from hurt and a mistake but keep his friend in the process – never going to be easy and is, if you haven’t already guessed, an impossible task.
After a heartfelt scene where Gary desperately tries to find Karen and Rick before they can consummate their relationship (and the first non-comedic sex scene) and tragically fails, he feels alone and dejected, captured by filming him in the centre of a deserted diner when, who should walk in, but the very two he has been searching for. Rick jumps at the chance to brag, further breaking Gary’s heart and the first seeds of their fallout are sown right there. It is at this point when the comedic nature of the film comes to an end and a far more sombre story emerges; the true autobiographical tale of the director as he puts his heart right up there on screen. The liaison between Karen and Rick has far reaching consequences and Rick, being Rick does not own up to, or indeed even care about his responsibilities and brushes Karen away having used her. This becomes the last straw for Gary and he confronts his former friend which, obviously doesn’t end well. And Gary, being Gary, steps in to help Karen. When the rest of his friends, on the Christmas break, take time out to go skiing, Gary stays behind (even without the knowledge of his parents), sells his merge possessions, begs, borrows and steals the cash to fund the operation for Karen, and all out of love for the girl he wants so badly. It is during her recuperation that he professes his undying love for her and this seems to be reciprocated and the two finally share a kiss.
However, when everything looks to be going right for Gary (he even manages to get the money together to buy her a gold, inscribed, heart locket for her eighteenth birthday party) things suddenly come crashing down when, at Karen’s party, he opens a door and his whole world shatters – seems girls will always go for a bad boy …
The melding of teen sex comedy and serious melodrama does take some skill, and the fact that it is based on the director’s own life, means the film has a kind of heart that it might otherwise have lacked. There is a sensitivity to the way the story unfolds, there are real emotions and credible experiences that pretty much any teenager will recognise, especially if they have been in similar situations. It is this heart that manages to pull the film through, so even though the left turn is quite jarring and unexpected, and the ending is just bitter, there is enough to make it a worthy watch. The eighties fashions and temperament do clearly date the film significantly, but the story is just universal enough to outweigh this problem. The music too places the film in the decade it was made, however it is used to good effect – both as part of the film, i.e. as in party scenes, or as melodrama to the characters feelings where the song lyrics express their inner turmoil (or otherwise). Acting wise the cast, being very young and being pretty much their first feature film, get on very well. There is an excellent chemistry between the leads and each plays to their strengths – with only a few stilted and strained lines. Taken as a whole the film just works, a combination of talent both behind and in front of the camera propelling the heart of the story forward; if you can get over the fact that what starts out as a riotous sex farce morphs into a bitter melodrama then there is plenty to enjoy.
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