The pleasures of the flesh trump the sacrifices of the spirit in “Young & Wild,” a lusty, vapid Chilean drama from debuting director/co-writer Marialy Rivas. Playing a nubile 17-year-old blogger unwilling to let her strict evangelical upbringing get in the way of her raging libido, Alicia Luz Rodriguez leads an attractive cast in this explicit, energetic ode to youthful sexual confusion and boundary testing. Yet beneath the pic’s frisky surface, which should excite audiences, inflame censors and ensure maximum fest-circuit penetration, its crass, exaggerated humor and callow treatment of its subject suggest a banal emission from a teenager’s unformed mind.
That teenager is Daniela (Rodriguez), introduced gratifying herself in the film’s first scene; the camera holds her face in extreme closeup before pulling back to reveal that she’s done the deed while surrounded by sleeping friends. Daniela soon acts out her irrepressible sexuality in even more public fashion: She starts a racy blog in which she goes by the name of Young & Wild, writing feverishly about her carnal awakening as well as attempts by her super-uptight Christian mother, Teresa (Aline Kuppenheim), to suppress her every wayward impulse.
It was just such a blog that inspired Rivas and four other scribes to write the script (which won a prize at Sundance), and it provides the film a handy, episodic structure as well as a Web-savvy hook. While Daniela’s confessional narration dominates the film, her titillated readers offer plenty of dirty-minded feedback; Rivas shoots them from a computer’s-eye view as they type their responses, a perv-on-the-street device whose attempts at humor soon turn repetitive and obvious.
When news of Daniela’s fooling around gets her kicked out of school, Teresa forces her to get a job at the local Christian-themed TV station. The intended punishment backfires, however, when Daniela starts getting friendly with her teen co-workers: the handsome, eminently corruptible Tomas (Felipe Pinto) and attractive Antonia (Maria Gracia Omegna), who’s more than game for a little girl-on-girl action.
These softcore scenes should make the film an especially hot commodity at LGBT fests and with straight male audiences; still, “Young & Wild” is nothing if not egalitarian in its willingness to service auds of all genders and persuasions. The good-looking young actors disrobe often enough to give the film a continual erotic charge, and rather than cut away early on, editors Andrea Chignoli and Sebastian Sepulveda let the scenes of intense lovemaking play out at an impressively naturalistic length.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Daniela’s reckless experimentation will eventually catch up with her, although not in a way that leaves her or the viewer with any particular wisdom or insight about her situation. From the outset, the character’s interest in her family’s religion is virtually nil, which would be fine if her spiritual inertia were in and of itself compelling. Yet Daniela’s bored disdain is matched in full by that of the filmmakers, who can’t muster enough regard for the subject of faith to even satirize it properly.
With the exception of one incisive scene in which Daniela slyly turns a man’s Christian testimony against him, the film’s portrait of its church-dominated milieu feels anemic and vague, suspended between comedic exaggeration and realistic depiction. The tension between body and soul has been dramatized in far richer, more mysterious ways in Lucrecia Martel’s “The Holy Girl” and Alice Rohrwacher’s recent “Corpo Celeste,” to name two very different female-directed films centered around girls trying to reconcile sexuality and spirituality.
Rivas’ strongest gift as a helmer is her knack with actors. The watchful and very watchable Rodriguez is fearless in her unabashed assertion of her character’s sexual desires, and Kuppenheim makes the harpy-like Teresa as complex and fleshed-out a character as she can within the script’s confines. Ingrid Isensee supplies a tender, moving performance as Daniela’s cancer-stricken aunt, even if the role is exploited to cheaply cathartic effect.
Stylistically, the film is all too pleased with its lack of discipline, often tinting the image pink and purple or filling the screen with animated drawings of genitalia. Closing credits at one point refer to the film as “a really good movie.”