When we think of Cynthia Nixon, we immediately think of sex – and New York City. But Miranda Hobbes (I’ll never forget when she almost ate cake out of the garbage) wasn’t always the perfectly coiffed redhead of a New York socialite we love to compare ourselves and our girlfriends to. In fact, she’s not even a real ginger.
Cynthia got her start as a young – blonde! – actress in the 1980 teen sex dramedy, Little Darlings. Unlike her no-nonsense lawyer on SATC, this Cynthia was much more, uh, au natural. Her on-screen persona went by Sunshine, and peddled organic vitamins and ginseng (“It’ll make you sexy!” she exclaimed) to fellow teens. It’s hilarious to think of our favourite TiVo-loving junk food junkie dolling out healthy living tips. But I guess it just goes to show that she’s always had a solid sense of comedic timing under her sometimes-designer-sometimes-string belt.
Cynthia might be your main reason for scouting out a copy of Little Darlings (although that is a feat in itself, this flick has yet to be released on DVD, at least legally), but it’s not the reason to re-watch it – or buy a terribly dubbed copy of it on eBay during an extremely impulsive rainy afternoon. This under-appreciated 80s gem would still shine, with or without it’s future HBO babe.
Little Darlings follows two seemingly different 15-year-olds – Angel (Kristy McNichol), a feisty middle-class tomboy, and Ferris, a privileged priss of a girly girl. The two meet at camp and are immediately pitted against each other by the cabin bitch, who places a bet that Ferris can lose her virginity before Angel. The whole thing is quite comical at first, as tweens run around throwing food at each other and rocking 70s tees with “Angel” and “Ferris” scrolled across their barely-there boobs. But things get really serious when the sorta tougher competitor meets Randy (a very young, very sexy Matt Dillon), a boy from a neighboring all-boys camp.
I know, I know. It sounds very after-school special on safe-sex. But it’s really not. Thanks to a solid script, a fairly realistic lesson (sex is different for everyone – and should be treated as such) and one hell of a performance from McNichol, this little flick stands far out from the TV movie crowd.
McNichol oozes attitude (when we first meet her, she’s kicking a wannabee fondler in a balls) for the first act but seamlessly transitions into a lost little girl during the film’s final moments. Her reaction to her life post-cherry is actually devastating. Try not to feel misty as she wipes a tear off her finally unsmug face and mumbles, “God, I feel so lonesome” As Ebert once said, it plays out so “honestly” it’s heartbreaking.
Tatum O’Neal is less convincing as Ferris. It’s hard to believe that she is the Oscar-winner of the two leads. She makes it hard to care about her snobby character and see what Angel eventually sees in her. Especially when she picks her obviously 30-year-old swim instructor to be her first-time. Their touchy-feely shallow water lesson is meant to be sweet, but it comes off sorta statutory.
Creepy side-stories aside, Little Darlings has the one thing the teen girl movie market is missing these days: courage. If we love watching forty-something cougars flaunting their stuff and talking about blow jobs like they’re candy, why can’t we show some girls exploring their curiosity in a frank and shamelessly honest way? We got close with last year’s awesome female-powered horror flick, Jennifer’s Body. Unfortunately, that focused a bit too much on Megan Fox’s bod to hit the grrl-power ball out of the park.
I’m not saying Hollywood needs to resort to exploitative Thirteen-style over-sexualization (contrary to Miley’s recent lament, young ladies are not just wild, sex-hungry bird-girls). That’s just unnecessary and pervy. What the teen movie industry really needs is a flick with Superbad style riffs on awkward first-love connections and define what it means to be a BFF/wing-girl. So basically, Apatow with tits (or Fast Times at Ridgemont High without Spicoli and Judge Reinhold). Hey, there’s a first time for everything.