Sunday 4 September 2022

Movie Review: Little Darlings (1980)

A teen sex comedy, Little Darlings adopts a girls' perspective on the hazards of adolescence and steers towards nuanced treatment of a tricky subject.

In the Atlanta area, teen girls from different backgrounds attend Camp Little Wolf for the summer. The tough-spoken Angel Bright (Kristy McNichol) is from the wrong side of the tracks, and immediately clashes with the wealthy Ferris Whitney (Tatum O'Neal). Both are 15 years old, and shamed as virgins by the conceited Cinder (Krista Errickson). Before long, all the girls at the camp are betting on whether Angel or Ferris will lose her virginity first.

The romantic Ferris sets her eyes on camp instructor Gary Callahan (Armand Assante), but he is cautious with her flirting. The more pragmatic Angel spots seemingly willing teenager Randy (Matt Dillon) from the adjacent boys' camp. As both girls get closer to their first sexual experience, unexpected doubts and uncertainties surface.

Featuring two bright young talents in Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal, Little Darlings threatens to fall into routine teen summer camp movie shenanigans, girl style, but then recovers into a more serious exploration of peer pressure, young women's dilemmas with sex, and the nature of friendships. Writers Kimi Peck and Dalene Young are not short on cringey dialogue and cannot resist throwing in catfights and foodfights, but the second half is more concerned with confronting genuine emotions and discards the search for cheap laughs.

Angel not only embarks on a quest to lose her virginity, she is also the camp misfit, a tough and troubled kid alone in a middle class crowd. She initiates all her interactions with Randy (a more-than-meets-the-eye Matt Dillon), but she is also unsure if she wants to pursue what she is initiating. McNichol emerges as a compelling actress, director Ronald F. Maxwell recognizing her ability to command the screen in several compelling scenes. 

In contrast Tatum O'Neal as Ferris defaults to princess mannerisms and fairytale romance ambitions, her juvenile flirtations with Gary (a disheveled Armand Assante) easy to rebuff. Little Darlings unfortunately turns down the opportunity to harness the power of friendship between Angel and Ferris: they spend most of the movie hissing at each other, time that could have been better invested exploring commonalities.

Maxwell does surround the two leads with a gaggle of well-defined supporting characters, including Cynthia Nixon in her debut as Sunshine (all peace and love until it's time for war), Alexa Kenin as the grounded Dana, and Krista Errickson as the perfectly irritating snob Cinder. An impressive soundtrack features music by Blondie, Supertramp, The Cars, the Bellamy Brothers, and John Lennon.

Little Darlings stretches into the deceptions that weave individuals into groups, the truth blurred to best fit in and get along. The real rite of passage, it turns out, is defining what really matters on the arduous trip to adulthood.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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