Disturbing precisely because it is so believable, Kids goes well beyond any previous American film in frankly describing the lives of at least a certain group of modern teenagers. Celebrated photographer Larry Clark’s first feature is bluntly about sex, drugs and irresponsibility, and in an extremely upfront way that viewers will have to admit is convincing, whether they like it or not.
On an aesthetic level, Kids is remarkable as a first film by a man in his 50s who indelibly captures the attitudes, speech patterns, rhythms, desires and lack of perspective of his teenage characters.
Covering 24 hours in the lives of a bunch of Manhattan kids on a hot summer day, pic begins with its nominal protagonist deflowering a very young girl, follows with the numbing discovery by another girl that she’s HIV-positive thanks to that same boy, and pushes on to document endless sexual bragging, drug-taking, gay-baiting, black-bashing and, ultimately, a debauched party during which another virgin is unknowingly victimized by the thoughtless seducer.
From the opening scene, which unflinchingly observes the cocky Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) talking a sweet blonde (Sarah Henderson) into surrendering her virginity to him, the film takes a direct, non-judgmental view of what it’s presenting. As soon as he accomplishes his morning conquest, an exuberant Telly hits the streets to boast to his buddy Casper (Justin Pierce) about it.
It would seem that Clark and young screenwriter Harmony Korine intend the film as a truthful depiction of urban kids today, with an overlay of a cautionary attitude about the wages of blatant disregard for the need for safe sex. More of a gray area is the extent to which the picture seems voyeuristic and exploitative of its young subjects.