As gay cinema goes, the great thing about “We Are the Mods” is that being a lesbian is the least of main character Sadie’s outsider credentials. A tomboyish photographer who doesn’t fit in with her school’s chipper French-club groupies, Sadie seeks an ally for her nonconformist worldview, finding one in Nico and her clique of Mod revivalists. The character’s born-again hipster status might have felt affected in other hands, but director E.E. Cassidy incorporates enough autobiographical detail to make her coming-of-age story feel genuine. Too ragged for mainstream distribs, “Mods” could easily find a following in specialty hands.
Where other comedy writers often exploit quirky niches for easy laughs, Cassidy really seems to adore the scene, with its Vespa scooters and Mary Quant-style clothes. By raiding closets and calling in favors, she manages to stage a plausible Mod subculture in Los Angeles, stocking the low-budget project with authentic retro artifacts.
It’s a classmate’s Vespa (actually a Lambretta) that first catches the eye of not-easily-impressed Sadie (Melia Renee), as Treg (Lance Drake) pulls up one morning with girlfriend Nico (Mary Elise Hayden) onboard. Such smitten-at-first-sight moments have become a teen-movie cliche, but this one feels different, since it’s not clear whether Sadie’s hooked by the girl, the boy or the bike (turns out it’s the latter, though Sadie has a chance to sample all three before the movie ends).
Her dowdy denim-and-flannel wardrobe aside, Sadie begins the movie as a rather conventional nerd: She makes good grades and has her sights set on design school, which is more than can be said for Nico, the long-legged goddess who strides into her photography class. Nico’s the type who might easily have been the most popular girl in school, were it not for the cast she wears on one leg (though little is made of the condition that necessitates this, it clearly accounts for her outsider status).
The two young ladies hit it off right away, with Nico’s husky voice, micro-miniskirts and Army-surplus parka striking square, young Sadie as incredibly exotic. Nico appears at just the moment Sadie’s former best friend is trying to re-establish her identity with the in-crowd, leaving Sadie to move in the opposite direction. As an artist, Sadie has potential but no point of view (her portfolio consists mainly of portraits of rocks), though she’s eager to evolve.
Passive at first, Sadie allows other characters to initiate her, enthusiastically doing her first line of cocaine and devouring DVDs of “Blow-Up” and “Band of Outsiders.” The sexual tension begins subtly enough, though innocuous sleepovers soon yield to compromising situations, threatening to destroy their friendship.
Cassidy gets great performances from her mostly unknown cast, with Hayden nailing the vulnerability beneath Nico’s tough exterior. She’s a force of nature, and you can sense Cassidy shares Sadie’s awe at the way Nico handles her cigarettes, or the conviction with which she delivers such zingers as, “I think it’s the most original penis that I’ve ever known.”
The pic’s biggest hurdle will be clearing the music, an essential aspect of Sadie’s overnight induction (“Mods” won a soundtrack award at Outfest, though most of the rights are still up in the air). The Super 16 footage looks terrific, except for one scene with overexposed edges, but the editing and sound mix could use some finessing before release.