(2020) Teen Romance (Blue Fox) Anjini Taneja Azhar, Quinn Liebling, Alex Jarmon, Ayla Carda, Kelly Grace Richardson, Eric Martin Reid, Tanner Orcutt, Carter Jon Kasey Brown, Dennis Fitzpatrick, Sydney Michelle Groves, Scott Kuza, Sharonlee McLean, David Withers, Jack Poole, Austin Leo, Jonas Schouten, Teshia Gore, Morgan Demetre, Danny Garrison, Natalee Vu. Directed by Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman
Is there a time in our lives more awkward, more exciting, more painful and more triumphant than adolescence? Our hormones rage out of control as we take our first hesitant steps on the road to becoming who we are. It is never an easy journey; our hearts get broken with amazing regularity and everything is life and death to us as our angst level rises well off the scale.
14-year-old Harper (Azhar) know this She lives in Portland but she was originally born in India; along with her brother Adam (Jarmon) she was adopted by well-meaning parents who could very well be peripheral characters in Portlandia. Adam’s best friend Tilly (Liebling) lives across the street and is a year older than Harper; all three of them attend the same high school. But Harper and Tilly begin to develop feelings for one another, which leads to….the kind of things that happen when teens develop feelings for one another.
The two are not given much support. Adam, finding out about their relationship, feels betrayed by both of them. Harper’s adopted parents are concerned that she’s too young to be sexually active. And their friends? Those that are girls don’t want to hear about Harper’s sexual adventures and the boys have started to regard her as the school slut. The pressures from without threaten to drive the nascent couple apart. Can their feelings for one another withstand the rigors of external scrutiny?
Clearly the writer-director duo of Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman were going for authenticity. The dialogue is as awkward as most teenagers come off. Tilly speaks in a series of half-sentences that start and stop and careen around the point he’s trying to make, but Harper doesn’t have a problem understanding him. When they go in for their first kiss, there is a feeling of inevitability that undercuts the overall charm of their awkard advances towards one another, but once again feels more authentic than the swelling strings and fireworks that usually mark an onscreen romantic couple’s first kiss.
Of the two, Harper has ore self-confidence and more self-awareness than Tilly; that doesn’t mean she is without self-doubt, but she has a powerful spirit and a great deal of inner strength. As a result, Azhar gives the more memorable performance, but to be fair she’s given more to work with than Liebling who comes off as a much more typical teenage boy who has ZERO game but can fake one if need be.
Your tolerance for the film will more likely depend on how fresh in your mind your awkward teen years are, or at least how in-touch with your teenage self you remain. For those of us who have sneakers older than Harper, it is a more difficult proposition to watch the two teens stumble awkwardly towards each other but one can’t help but find it endearing, particularly if you have memories of stumbling awkwardly towards someone back in the day.
Not being a teen, I have not a clue what they’ll think about this. There isn’t a lot of jargon here, so the dialogue is somewhat timeless and won’t feel dated to audiences ten and twenty years from now. What really ages well though is the feel of the movie; that first flush of first love; the stolen kisses, the meaningful glances, the boy looking at his girl’s boobs without trying to look at them – it’s a boy thing, ladies. We all did it/still do it.
This is likely to bring out bittersweet emotions in viewers, particularly those who have been through similar relationships. Most of us will recognize something of ourselves in Harper and Tilly, even if were weren’t nearly as outspoken as she or as self-conscious as he. There’s nothing particularly revelatory here; it’s just a look back at something most of us can relate to. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.
REASONS TO SEE: Gets awkward teen dialogue just right.
REASONS TO AVOID: The less recent your teen years were, the more likely you are to be annoyed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, teen sexuality and some teen smoking and drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The co-directors are brother and sister.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/15/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eighth Grade
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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