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Film Review: ‘Slut in a Good Way’

Overtly challenging more than a century of chauvinistic teen sex comedies, this tiny Canadian crowd-pleaser argues there's nothing wrong if girls just want to have fun too.

Director:
Sophie Lorain
With:
Marguerite Bouchard, Rose Adam, Romane Denis

1 hour 29 minutes

Official Site: https://comedydynamics.com/slutinagoodway/

For more than a century, movies as a medium have served to reinforce a certain view of female sexuality that served to benefit … whom? Not the female sex, really, but men — or a male-dominated culture that wanted women to be more receptive to their advances, on one hand, even as it reinforced the idea that giving in too easily, or to more than one partner, made them “sluts.” Was this deliberate indoctrination on the part of filmmakers? That’s a question for graduate theses and sociologists to answer, but the impact was clear in everything from the Production Code to John Hughes movies.

As its playfully sex-positive English-language title suggests, Sophie Lorain’s “Slut in a Good Way” turns the tables on much of that mass-media conditioning, offering an upbeat and unpretentious female-centered look at the gratification, and consequences, of adolescent “oats sowing” (a metaphor heretofore reserved for indiscriminately randy men). It should be said that the film’s French title, “Charlotte a du Fun,” better translates to “Charlotte Fools Around,” or more literally, “Charlotte Has Some Fun,” although one can hardly blame the producers of this black-and-white, micro-budgeted Canadian comedy for going with something more sensationalistic when screening it at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.

In any case, this less-saucy-than-it-sounds second feature from well-known Quebec TV actress Lorain (written by Catherine Léger) chronicles, without judgment, the trial-and-error experimentation of sexually liberated young people looking for connection, however fleeting, in the age of birth control and hookup apps. Even conservative audiences may be relieved to know that within the span of an hour and a half, Lorain and Léger manage to bring it all around to a fairly square place, giving modern girls permission to explore their own sexuality, critiquing in the process the double-standards and public shaming that go along with such behavior.

Signaling from the get-go that it has no interest in perpetuating polite good-girl stereotypes, “Slut in a Good Way” opens with its three central characters in a small-town sex shop, cracking wise as they browse the aisles of dildos and adult novelties. The trio consists of best friends Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard), Mégane (Romain Denis), and Aube (Rose Adam). At 17, two of the three are already sexually active, and like so many of the teenage dudes we’ve seen in youth-centric movies — from “Porky’s” to “American Pie” — they seem to spend a lot of their time talking about sex.

Charlotte has just broken up with her boyfriend, who is gay; Mégane is the rebel of the group, constantly urging the other two to loosen up; and Aube claims not to be a virgin but isn’t convincing anybody. Hanging out in abandoned playgrounds, they smoke pot, get wasted on illicitly bought beer, and piss wherever they please — shenanigans that catch the attention of a local patrol car, triggering a free-wheeling chase scene through suburban back alleys.

Lorain sets their mad dash to the corny electro-spastic “Nitro Bot” track from Wii gaming system’s “Just Dance” series (an incredibly specific millennial pop-culture reference that pays off in the Christmas-party dance-off scene that closes out the movie). In any case, it’s the right tempo for their semi-intoxicated escape, which sends the three amigos ducking into Jouets Dépôt, a massive, warehouse-style kiddie megastore in the vein of the late Toys“R”Us chain.

They may have entered the toy store to ditch the cops, but something clever happens as they roam the aisles: These girls haven’t entirely outgrown childish things, but they now see them through different eyes, remarking on the way all the toys in the beauty aisle serve to “brainwash us from birth to like pink, flowers, and love.” But if it sounds like maybe they’ve cracked some kind of cultural conspiracy (to an extent, they have, for recognizing such patterns robs them of their power), the scene takes an unexpected turn as they begin to notice that all the employees of Jouets Dépôt are guys their age. Before leaving, they stop by the customer service desk to pick up job applications, and a scene later, they get the call to come in for new-employee orientation.

The rest of the movie takes place during the course of this ridiculously low-stress teenage job, where they’re free to be slackers, while flirting openly with all the cute guys working there. Charlotte sees it as the perfect rebound opportunity, erasing the memory of her gay ex-boyfriend. Before she knows it (spoiler alert), Charlotte has achieved a “perfect score” — which is to say, she’s hooked up with all of the guys who work at Jouets Dépôt (technically, all but one, the overall-respectful and all-around more mature Guillaume, played by Alexandre Godbout).

It’s a hilarious twist on the traditionally male-driven teen sex comedy, wherein immature young men spend considerable effort trying to convince someone to sleep with them. Of course, those would-be conquests depend on awkward boys actually finding someone to say “yes”: a tired formula in which the men want, while the women withhold. Shifting the focus to a more liberated/less inhibited female protagonist, operating in an ecosystem where (nearly) all the guys would gladly accept her advances, completely changes that dynamic — which explains how, halfway through the film, Charlotte realizes that she has all-but-exhausted her options.

Only then does Charlotte discover that while she was having fun, everyone else was tracking her exploits — and judging her for it. Aube is especially hurt, since she had a crush on one of the boys (Vassili Schneider); others have girlfriends, who resent Charlotte’s casual intrusion on their couples. Suddenly, Charlotte understands what it means to be thought of as a “slut in a bad way,” trying to regain the upper hand by launching a “Lysistrata”-like abstinence ploy for the women of Jouets Dépôt to withhold sex until Christmas.

I don’t want to oversell “Slut in a Good Way” here. It’s a tiny movie, and the bleary black-and-white cinematography looks only a notch better than “Clerks,” and yet, like Antoine Desrosières’ “Sextape” (easily the funniest film I’ve ever seen in Cannes, but still without U.S. distribution), Lorain’s film challenges traditional gender roles in such a way that’s surface-level entertaining but also deep enough to inspire a college term paper or two. At the very least, it’s a step toward abolishing labels like “slut” altogether and acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong if Charlotte, and girls in general, just want to have fun.

Film Review: 'Slut in a Good Way'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Visions), April 19, 2018. Running time: 89 MIN. (Original title: “Charlotte a du fun”)

Production: (Canada) A Comedy Dynamics release, presented with Les Films Christal, of an Amérique Film, Martin Paul-Hus production. Producers: Martin Paul-Hus, Brian Volk Weiss, Griffin Gmelich, Anna Roberts.

Crew: Director: Sophie Lorain. Screenplay: Catherine Léger. Camera (b&w): Alexis Durand Brault. Editor: Louise-Philippe Rathé. Music: Dazmo.

With: Marguerite Bouchard, Rose Adam, Romane Denis, Alex Godbout, Anthony Therrien, Vassili Schneider.

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