It may not be intentional, but “There Goes My Baby” is a virtual companion piece to “American Graffiti.” Set in 1965, three years after the George Lucas pic, it’s also an episodic character piece in which eight high school grads confront their future on two fateful nights as the soundtrack counterpoints the action with the music of the day. Lost in the shuffle of Orion’s bankruptcy for two years, it’s been retrieved from the shelf and is competing at the Montreal fest. Ripe for discovery, the riveting, infectious comic drama has a real shot at sleeper success with proper support.
This good-natured, emotion-charged memory piece has a lot to say about the era’s political and social landscape. It rarely stoops to preaching; rather, its wallop comes from the key personalities and the way pivotal historic events are absorbed into the mundane and unsullied lives of American teenagers.
Narrated by Anne Archer, the look back is told from the p.o.v. of class valedictorian Mary Beth (Lucy Deakins). In 1961, her class at Westwood High in California was chronicled by Look magazine as the country’s future. It’s a mantle they did not seek; nor do they desire it four years later.
In the interval, JFK was assassinated, the civil rights movement took root, the country began a “Camp Nowhere,” “police action” in Vietnam and rock ‘n’ roll lost a lot of its inanity.
The class has evolved, too. Some have developed a keen social conscience and others simply want to be on the road or in the surf.
The last night of school and its immediate aftermath bring all these elements to the fore, as well as such deeply personal issues as teenage pregnancy and career and college options.
Initially, pic seems no more than a goof. But writer/director Floyd Mutrux has a lot more on his plate. A classmate who lost a brother in Vietnam is mercilessly clubbed and taken to jail by police for his schoolyard protest. Later, at the height of a final celebration, word wafts in that, across town,the Watts riots have ignited.
Filmed prior to the ’92 L.A. riots, “There Goes My Baby” takes on an eerily prophetic tone. Yet the events never overpower the characters, whose lives are elegantly interwoven.
Mutrux and his young cast deserve enormous credit for keeping the loosely knit tale emotionally absorbing. Particular standouts are Rick Schroder as a surfer headed for Vietnam, Kelli Williams as one of the original flower children , Jill Schoelen as an aspiring rock star and Kenny Ransom as the school’s lone black student.
Add a soundtrack with an ironic bite and cinematographer William Fraker’s poetic eye, and the result is a unique and highly entertaining pic. “There Goes My Baby” is a genuine find of supreme simplicity and skill. Like the era it relives, it seems an anachronism among the current crop of films. Yet its sincerity and craft set it apart, and that difference makes it all the more potent.