Nether Regions 02.08.11: Little Darlings
Posted by Chad Webb on 02.08.2011
The tagline - "The Bet is on: Whoever loses their virginity first - wins." The stars - Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol. Admit it, you're a little curious...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Starring: Tatum O'Neal, Kristy McNichol, and Matt Dillon Directed By: Ronald F. Maxwell Written By: Kimi Peck and Dalene Young Running Time: 96 minutes Release Date: March 21, 1980 Missing Since: 1998 Existing Formats:VHS only Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Mildly Rare
I had never even heard of Little Darlings until I stumbled across the above poster at a film convention. Once I read the tagline, I was sufficiently intrigued. Of course since I seem to be a magnet for rare movies, I discovered that this title had never been released on DVD. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but Little Darlings was a bit disjointed. It's half outrageous summer camp romp and half tender examination of girls having sex for the first time. When it wants to be, Little Darlings is actually quite affecting, sensitive, and attentively executed.
The girls at the camp gather for a group picture.
The set-up is completely generic. Ferris (Tatum O'Neal) is a lonely rich girl and Angel (Kristy McNichol) is a rough and tough tomboy. Both 15 year-olds are prepared to attend summer camp, and both happen to be late in catching the bus. They end up having to sit together, but Angel does not want to give up the space next to her. They instantly hate each other as this altercation escalates into a full out brawl. The fight was not very believable, and even though we've known Angel for only a few minutes, she didn't seem like the type who would be fussy over a seat for no reason. Oh well. They arrive at camp, which of course has a boys camp within spying distance, and the girls immediately delve into the fun of volleyball, tug of war, row boating, and sneaking through the woods.
One of the other girls, Cinder (Krista Errickson), someone who wears too much makeup and was apparently in a commercial, figures out that both Ferris and Angel are virgins. She convinces them, and the rest of the girls, to join in on a bet of which one can have sex first. They soon acquire targets. For Ferris, it is one of the camp instructors, Gary Callahan (Armand Assante). He's umm, everything a young female would want if they went back in time to the late 70's or early 80's. Angel spots the youthful Randy (Matt Dillon) from afar with his long black hair, cigarettes at the ready, and extremely short cut off jeans. Ferris manages to get private swim lessons with Mr. Callahan, while Angel starts seeing Randy late at night in some secluded shack (really a dilapidated boathouse). Good thing for her this wasn't I Spit on Your Grave or Friday the 13th. And so it goes, as both try to have their cherries popped, but it results in them growing up at the same time.
By 1980, Kristy McNichol had already won two Emmys and was nominated for one of her eventual two Golden Globes for her part in the drama series Family. Tatum O'Neal had an Oscar and a Golden Globe under her belt for Paper Moon. Oddly enough, McNichol was considered for the role O'Neal won in The Bad News Bears in 1976. O'Neal was 16 at the time of Little Darlings and McNichol was 17, but these were skilled young performers, and as the later scenes establish, much better than the material. I doubt anyone could have played Ferris and Angel better, but if the characters aren't written well, the commendable acting can only go so far. Still, they were both cute for their age, and were evidently having fun during the shoot. McNichol tops O'Neal if they are to be directly compared, but only because O'Neal has trouble finding that perfect groove. What's sad is that they have superb chemistry, yet are kept apart for most of the story.
Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol on set for the water scenes.
On the male front, Armand Assante is the athletic, hairy, and handsome Gary Callahan, who takes a liking to Ferris because they both have a fondness for all things French related. He was a relative newcomer then, who had been in Sylvester Stallone's Paradise Alley, John Frankenheimer's turd Prophecy, and several TV projects. Surprisingly, he and O'Neal are wonderful together, and the situation between adult and teenager is never creepy. Matt Dillon is Randy, whom Angel swoons after. He is an expert at escaping his camp late at night after all, and can ride a dirt bike like nobody's business. This was Dillon's sophomore role, but he had already made an impression with Over the Edge. He is terrific with Kristy McNichol as just a normal guy. There are few clichés or stereotypes with the main characters, which makes watching them somewhat enjoyable. In one scene, he and McNichol chug Budweiser like it's going out of style. By the way, there is a lot of product placement in this movie. Marlboro cigarettes anyone?
Only as the conclusion draws closer does Little Darlings reveal that it has a genuine heart and cares for its characters. Before that, it wants to be a female version of a comedy like Meatballs, which had been a box office hit around that time. For example, it must be a law that any story about a summer camp has to involve a food fight at some point. We have that, and a tangent when the girls actually steal a bus (which Angel drives) in order to spy on boys and steal a condom machine. These attempts at humor are not only forced but also desperate and ill advised. Writers Kimi Peck and Dalene Young seem to rely on these lame stunts to fill the running time. When they finally do have emotionally arresting sequences with their leads, it is too little and too late.
Ronald F. Maxwell stood at the helm for this confused film, and he would go on to direct the great epic Gettysburg and its follow-up Gods & Generals. Odd knowing he was responsible for two sweeping civil war pieces and a girly teen comedy, but there that is. Little Darlings was his feature debut after the fabulous teleplay Verna: U.S.O. Girl, and he would work with McNichol once more after this in The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. He's basically going through the motions of this threadbare script. It's left up to the weak gags and the strong but far from invincible talents of the stars to carry the load.
Shirtless Matt Dillon: Hunk to All.
Little Darlings or "Lil Darlins" as it was originally called, was unique in that it concentrated on females losing their virginity instead of young men. However, they had to edit all that for the TV version (yes, there was one). All the references to virginity were taken out so the plot became about who could fall in love with a guy first. Other bits of trivia you might not know is that Tatum O'Neal had first choice of character and Kristy McNichol, who took up smoking for the character, couldn't quit the habit afterwards. Also, Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon appears as the hippie flower girl Sunshine.
Movies like Little Darlings are almost painful to discuss because they showed glimmers of what they could have been. There is a one-on-one exchange between Ferris and Angel on a swing set near the end that is so brilliantly shot and delicately acted that its disappointing to think of the unnecessary flaws viewers previously endured. It does ultimately tackle the issue of having sex in a mature fashion with honesty and importance. I didn't hate Little Darlings, and to be honest, I'd gladly use a few of the moments in this coming-of-age pic as proof of how effective and capable these two were, but the screenplays drags the experience as a whole down, and a highlight reel wouldn't increase the rating.
Incidentally, the film also boasted a slightly irritating soundtrack that included contemporary artists at the time (Blondie, Supertramp, and John Lennon to name a few). That of course is the reason we have yet to see it on DVD. Most cuts now have sound alike songs.
Final Rating = 6.0/10.0
Rare Film News
Lost Peckinpah Script Found and Pushed Into Development
Recently, Sam Peckinpah's script for The Texanswas discovered by Producer Al Ruddy (The Godfather, Million Dollar Baby) In his desk. It was there for two decades collecting dust. John Milius was originally hired to pen the script, but his draft was not well received, so Peckinpah was called in to write some changes.
He did, but The Texans sat in development hell for 10 years, and when City Slickers landed in theaters, the greenlight for this "classic" western then ceased completely. Peckinpah's script was 250 pages long. Ruddy has hired Jim Byrnes to trim it to 150 pages. Byrnes wrote TV westerns such as Gunsmoke. The search for a director is on.
Peckinpah's most iconic film is The Wild Bunch. His revisionist westerns made his style instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic who constantly feuded with producers. He HATED them. He was also a notorious cocaine addict and general nutso. The stories from the set of Convoy are almost mythical now. After that critical dud, he wanted to return to westerns, but never had the chance. Still, he was a masterful filmmaker, and I hope this film gets made by someone who will honor his work.
*Tomorrow Criterion releases the Japanese film Still Walking. Also out is Elia Kazan's America, America, which I reviewed (see below) and Five Corners with Jodie Foster and Tim Robbins.
- The 2011 Oscar nominations were announced since my last column. There were some I liked, some I didn't, which is the case every year. Overall this is a boring year. I am looking forward to approximately three things: 1) Bale winning, 2) Fincher winning, and the possibility of a Banksy stunt if Exit Through the Gift Shop wins.
- I'm catching up on some of the 2010 films that I missed, as well as some 2011 efforts. I saw Ron Howard's The Dilemma, which was not very good since the premise didnt need to go 110 minutes, and Season of the Witch, an early contender for the top 10 worst list. I also saw Mike Leigh's Another Year, which is absolutely fantastic, and Sylvain Chomet's exquisite The Illusionist.
- UFC 126 aired this past weekend and it was a fun event overall. The first two fights could have been a bit more entertaining, but the Jones win was exciting since I will be at UFC 128 to see his newly announced title shot. However, everything else paled in comparison to Anderson Silva's stunning knock out victory over Vitor Belfort. I want to see Silva vs. GSP too, but I'm not sure if anyone can beat "The Spider."
- As for TV, I finally finished the end of Season 2 of Eastbound & Down, which has been sitting on my TIvo for months. Hilarious as usual. Now I am starting three shows for some reason, Archer, Justified, and Breaking Bad.
- I finally listened to Bruce Springsteen's The Promise, which is the best tracks of his Darkness on the Edge of Town box set. Great stuff. I recommend Live Forever as well, which is Bob Marley's final live performance. I also have some Biffy Clyro and Avenged Sevenfold in my player a lot lately.