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 very convincing, whether they like it or not. At the moment, the in-dustry is waiting to learn what the MPAA has in store for the film, as well as to see if Disney will back up whatever Miramax decides to do with it. Due to these major imponderables, pegging the film commercially is impossible: It could either become marginalized or, more likely, a cause celebre that will go as far as the controversy, the
Miramax publicity machine and domestic exhibition policies will allow.
An exemplary work of naturalistic cinema, this powerful independent production represents a prescription for controversy due to its uncompromising take on underage illicit behavior: It’s easy to see the ratings board, government officials, moralistic editorialists, religious orgs, irate exhibitors and parental groups, not to mention Disney, getting plenty stirred up about this ground-breaker.
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.
Clearly, a good deal of this is due to young screenwriter Harmony Korine, but for Clark to have understood the characters so well and won the trust of his young cast to such an extent ismost impressive.
It’s on the content level that all sorts of troubling issues come into play. 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, nonjudgmental view of what it’s presenting, suggesting that this is the way it is and allowing viewers to react with whatever set of morals, intelligence, sexual ideas, teen and parental experience they may bring with them.
As soon as he accomplishes his morning conquest, an exuberant Telly hits the streets to boast to his buddy Casper (Justin Pierce) about it. In the most explicit terms, Telly goes on and on about his addiction to virgins and about how he’s going to land another one by that night. More ultra-frank talk stems from cross-cutting of bull sessions between groups of boys and girls, each of whom are discussing details of their sex lives. One of the girls, 16-year-old Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), admits that she lost her virginity to Telly, the only guy’s she’s slept with, and is shortly stunned to get the results of her blood test. Picking up the lovely young Darcy (Yakira Peguero) before sundown, a small group heads for a local pool for some skinny-dipping and further sexual pranks, then makes the scene at a friend’s apartment, where kids who look as young as 10 or 11 are getting high and drunk.
It would seem that Clark and 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.
With Gus Van Sant regular Eric Edwards behind the camera (Van Sant is one of the exec producers), film has an exceptional visual quality, like a semi-documentary given the sheen of a beautifully lit professional feature. Chris Tellefson’s resourceful editing also contributes mightily to the deceptively verite feeling, and selections for the rock score are aptly chosen.
“Kids” was first shown as a midnight sneak preview at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Since then, two or three minutes reportedly have been trimmed, noticeably so only in the opening seduction scene, which was previously a bit more explicit. Elements of the soundtrack and mix have also been changed.