It amazes me that this movie is getting 100% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes right now. Here’s what happens. Certain movies have a look…that makes critics think they have to like it, because it has an “important message.” They went nuts over Eighth Grade a few years ago (which was only mildly entertaining, but many critics put it on their Top 10).
This movie does have a great message, but…it’s a message I saw (and was done better) in Boy Erased (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Lucas Hedges) a few years ago. It has the same message (and look) of The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz). That movie was also praised by critics, and was disappointing.
Writer/director Karen Maine did a short story called Yes, God, Yes...and this is the feature length story. I loved the film she co-wrote called Obvious Child (Jenny Slate). That dealt with a woman coming to grips with getting an abortion. This movie is a coming-of-age story with a Catholic schoolgirl in the early ‘90s, who is discovering her sexuality with the help of AOL, vibrating phones, and VHS tapes of Leonardo DiCaprio.
The movie has two big problems. The first is that it has kids acting in ways they would never act. Here’s an example of where they get it right and where they get it wrong. Alicia (Natalia Dyer of Stranger Things) is called out for continuing to rewind the sex scene in Titanic. Perfect. Where they get it wrong — she watches an older girl who has bullied her, do something to a guy at a Catholic retreat. And we’re supposed to believe this turns her on so much, that she’d pleasure herself with a broom, right before a nun walks into the kitchen she’s cleaning. I think a girl that age would be shocked by what she saw, not turned on. And if she was aroused in any way, knowing a nun could walk in on you, would probably keep her from acting on it. But that’s one of many ways the kids acted in ways I don’t think they would have.
The second problem with this movie is everything in it has been covered before on screen. That means the scenes are not as powerful. I won’t go into details on all those things but here’s one example: the kids at the retreat have to write a list of the sinful feelings they’ve had (Boy Erased was the last movie to do this).
There are also rumors about Alicia. That type of thing has been covered better in movies like Easy A, Mean Girls, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and many more. Now, it’s probably not fair to compare a small, indie film to those great studio pictures.
The scenes involving Alicia getting in over her head with online chats, have also been done so much better in other movies (my favorite use of this was in Me and You and Everyone We Know 15 years ago).
They do get one thing right. The casting. Everyone is perfect in their roles. The judgey best friend Laura (Francesa Reale, also from Stranger Things) is terrific. Father Murphy is played by Timothy Simons of Veep. He always has a great look on screen. It’s just a shame that, early on he has a few interesting takes on religion. During a sex ed class he explains that “Guys are like microwaves, and get hot quickly. Girls are like conventional ovens. They require preheating.”
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the kids asking questions in that class. Nobody would have, but it was a way to add some humor.
Yet the way they reveal his character to be a hypocrite isn’t the least bit believable.
Some upper class high school characters (Alisha Boe, with a cute but snotty smirk and Wolfgang Novogratz with the handsome face and extremely hairy arms) are used well in the story.
The Peter Gabriel song “In Your Eyes” gets another great use in a film (the other being Say Anything). And I thought of another Cameron Crowe movie, when Alicia is licking the top of the pudding repeatedly in the cafeteria and guys laugh at what that looks like. It was reminiscent of Jennifer Jason Leigh with the carrot in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Oh, and it was kind of cool how Alicia got back at the Father in the end. The look on her face reminded me of Lady Bird (one of my favorite films of 2017, so you can’t say it’s because I’m a 50-year-old male that I can’t appreciate the plight of a teenage girl).
Overall, this is a movie that was disappointing, but the critics have no choice but to gush over. Just as they did with Never Rarely Sometimes Always earlier this year, which was similar in some ways (but with a much more clever title).
2 stars out of 5.