Liberal Arts

"Liberal Arts" (2012)
Josh Radnor, better known as the dull one from "How I Met Your Mother," is clearly shooting for a Zach Braff, attempting to parlay his mainstream comedy profile into hipster movie appeal. In fact "Liberal Arts" is actually his second film and his first, "Happythankyoumoreplease," took home the audience award at Sundance (although many critics disagreed). "Liberal Arts" got a similarly rapturous reception when it premiered at the festival, (our positive, but less effusive review is here). The story concerns college admissions tutor Jesse Fisher and the unfortunately-named Zibbi (Elizabeth Olsen), a girl he meets when he returns to his alma mater to visit a former professor. He is in the midst of a mid-life crisis when sparky Zibbi enters the picture and in short order ends up dating the oh-so-nice older man. Just as they are about to consummate things, Zibbi tells Jesse that she is a virgin, and as he is very definitely not an appendage-swinging alpha-bro, Jesse considers this something of a moral quandary. He wonders if it is appropriate for someone his age, or if he is the right person to carry the responsibility for such a significant milestone in a young girl's life. On the spectrum of college-set losing-your-virginity movies, "Liberal Arts" occupies a literary little patch firmly in the middle ground, though its non-fratty humor does set it apart: it's a film about what sex means to people who consider what books you read to be as important as the clothes you wear or the car you drive. In many ways the antithesis to the puerile treatment that it gets in other college movies, "Liberal Arts" gave voice to the kind of sex that your average, library-dwelling student might be having, and brings a rare maturity to the romantic quandaries of young (and youngish) people.

Little Darlings

"Little Darlings" (1980)
So it devolves into '80s cheese at times, but outside of that "Little Darlings" features a pretty stark competition between two teens (played by Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol) who vow to lose their virginity to their respective partners. At times, it can get a bit "Lolita"-esque, particularly between O'Neal and her "mark," the older Gary (Armand Assante) while McNichol's relationship is more age appropriate and involves an adolescent Matt Dillon. When the film came out, it was a shock to audiences, as O'Neal had been hitherto best known as the youngest Oscar nominee for playing the adorable Addie in "Paper Moon," while McNichol had a successful career in television. "Little Darlings" plays out like a Lifetime movie at times, but by the end both girls understand that sex may feel like a competition, especially when you're young, but it isn't a game. Only one of the girls winds up losing her virginity, and when the twist comes along it's devastating for that character. Finally doing the deed comes off as a hollow victory, with no real winners involved.

Losin' It Tom Cruise

"Losin' It" (1983)
A justly overlooked, "one crazy night"-style story of a bunch of high school kids heading to Tijuana for some debauchery, "Losin' It" is most notable today for being the film before the film that gave a certain Tom Cruise his breakthrough—the superior sex comedy "Risky Business" came out the very same year. But here, three friends go on the trip, Dave (Jackie Earle Haley, apparently born looking about 35) the wildcard motormouth who can't keep it in his pants, Spider (John Stockwell) the good-looking jock who gets into fights and tries to bribe policemen, and Woody (Cruise), the sweet, slightly nebbish friend who chickens out of losing his virginity to a prostitute and is instead deflowered in a much more romantic manner by the young housewife (Shelley Long) to whom they gave a lift to TJ for a quickie divorce. So it's a romantic lead of sorts, inasmuch as this sort of film ever provided one of those, but it's Haley's wired, twitchy, OTT performance that steals what little there is to take here. Really, it's a tiresome palaver, featuring a neat line in casual racism and a pretty revolting sexist streak that may have been par for the course at the time, but dates the film badly now. The real surprise is that Curtis Hanson is the director. 

Sixteen Candles

"Sixteen Candles" (1984)
A classic John Hughes film, "Sixteen Candles" is about a very awkward two days in the life of Sam Baker (Molly Ringwald), a high school sophomore. Not only has her family forgotten her 16th birthday, but she also suffers through one humiliation after another. Filling out a peer-pressured unofficial "sex quiz" during class, Sam reveals that she's a virgin and is saving herself for school dreamboat Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling, who last we heard is a carpenter in Vermont). Embarrassingly, Jake intercepts the quiz unbeknownst to Sam, but with the luck of a '80s Molly Ringwald, he begins to develop feelings for her in spite of being able to get any chick he wants. Before all of this comes to a head, Sam fends off the unwanted attentions of a scrawny albeit persistent freshman (Anthony Michael Hall), credited merely as "the Geek." Turns out he told his nerdlings that he would go all the way with her and in a moment of sympathy, she gives him her panties as a "souvenir" without getting at all physical, which results in one of the most iconic moments in teen comedy history. Luckily later that night, the Geek is taken off Sam's hands when Jake sets him up with his uber-popular and pretty, though drunk out of her mind girlfriend Caroline (Haviland Morris), who takes the Geek's virginity—absolutely no troubling gender politics going on there, then. Although Sam doesn't "lose it" by the end of the movie, we'd place a pretty big bet that she did not wait too much longer after the credits and with the man of her dreams. 

Fast Times Sean Penn

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982)
So now it feels a bit dated, but "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," in the main still represents the malaise and insanity that is high school. The one to "lose it" in the movie is freshman Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is eager to be as cool as her older friend, Linda (Phoebe Cates). After learning how to give oral sex via a well-proportioned carrot, Stacy decides to give it up to an older guy she meets at her job. Screenwriter Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous") and director Amy Heckerling ("Clueless") change up the concept by emphasizing how lackluster and uneventful the Big Moment can be for girls: Stacy and the guy go to a baseball dugout—talk about romantic—where the sex is silent, quick, and unsatisfying for her. This is perfectly encapsulated when, during the act, the camera pans up to the top of the dugout, showing us her point of view, focusing on the graffiti written there. While the 1980s predominantly explored the excitement and challenge of young men looking to score ("Porky's," "Last American Virgin"), and ultimately their entering manhood, 'Fast Times' stands out in terms of evenhandedness, saying that young women can be curious and impatient and, well horny too. But the consequences? In Stacy's case, she ends up having an abortion in a moment of weepy melodrama, and ultimately concludes "anyone can have sex... I want a relationship. I want romance." Though how many young men remember that moment and not Phoebe Cates getting out of the pool is another matter.