Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Bet Is On

So, which “little darling” at summer camp will lose her virginity first? Will it be tough girl from the projects Angel (Kristy McNichol) or rich kid Ferris (Tatum O’Neal)? All the standard tropes of summer camp movies are in 1980's LITTLE DARLINGS—skinny-dipping, joyriding, food fighting, prophylactic hunting—but this isn’t an exploitation movie. What sets LITTLE DARLINGS apart from the MEATBALLSes and the GORPs is that its protagonists are girls. And that’s all the difference in the world.

The humor isn’t mean-spirited, the objects of desire aren’t humiliated, and when one of the girls finally does have sex, it leaves a powerful emotional impact on her. Director Maxwell (GETTYSBURG) goes for verisimilitude in his casting by hiring actual teens (O’Neal and Matt Dillon were 15; McNichol 16) with natural acting talent. The stars were already Hollywood veterans by the time they filmed LITTLE DARLINGS, but they come across as real kids. McNichol, who played a similar tomboy-type to acclaim on TV’s FAMILY, is particularly strong in the more challenging of the leading roles. Also appearing are Cynthia Nixon (SEX AND THE CITY) in her film debut as a hippie chick, Krista Errickson (HELLO LARRY), Alexa Kanin, Abby Bluestone, Simone Schachter, and a scene-stealing butterball named Jenn Thompson (HARPER VALLEY PTA) who should have had a big career. All of these girls are very good and natural, although Errickson’s thankless role as the bitchy one forces her over the top on occasion.

Of course, looking at LITTLE DARLINGS today, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at O’Neal’s pursuit of counselor Armand Assante (who was then 29), a subplot that would never occur in a Paramount picture today, never mind the smoking and the revealing costumes. Kimi Peck, whose only produced screenplay this is, and Dalene Young (THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB) have a sharp ear for intelligent dialogue, which combines with the performances and Maxwell’s fluid direction to create a surprisingly sensitive drama. John Lennon, Blondie, Rickie Lee Jones, Supertramp, and other top recording artists perform on the soundtrack, and Charles Fox composed and conducted the score. Filmed in Georgia. NBC aired a wildly censored version in 1983.

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