"Sex and the USA" Review
Shayla Beesley, Jaime Perkins, Gwen Davis, Josh Fallon, Kyle Buckland, Jay Costelo, Sharon Repass, Alia Rhiana Eckerman, Andrew Hernon
Stephanie K. Smith
Rated NR (Equiv. to R)
Breaking Glass Pictures
RETURN TO "S" ARCHIVE
If you were to combine the lampooning satirical quality of the underrated Jena Malone-led Saved with touches of Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, there's a good chance you'd come up with a film resembling director Jan Wellman's Sex and the U.S.A.
A genre defying examination of the impact of abstinence-only education on the teens in a conservative California suburb, Sex and the U.S.A. is narrated by 14-year-old Audrey (Shayla Beesley), who spends much of the film videotaping virtually every life experience in hopes of filming an amateur documentary and, perhaps even moreso, out of her own semi-morbid curiosity.
Along the same lines as controversial critical darlings Thirteen and Larry Clark's Kids, Sex and the U.S.A. attempts, but often fails, to ride a balance between an authentic examination of the role religion plays in the decision-making processes of these teens and religion's often out-of-touch approach to human sexuality that leaves many teens disconnected and without answers to key questions.
Currently finishing up its festival run in anticipation of a nationwide DVD release with Breaking Glass Pictures on July 27th, Sex and the U.S.A. wisely intertwines a very contemporary reality for today's teens...the world of Youtube, webcams, cell phone cameras and instant gratification while the abstinence programs stressed by former President George W. Bush preached the beauty of delayed gratification.
We won't go into the hypocrisy of the entire proposition given Bush's long history of substance abuse/addiction that didn't end until well into his 40's. Tis' always easier to preach advice than to follow it, eh?
Audrey, as played by Beesley, actually looks and feels a bit like Jena Malone, an earthy yet jaded young woman who seems mostly to be an observer in her own life while holding a clear infatuation with the beautiful Krista (Jaime Perkins). This parallel to Malone is a touch distracting, though obviously won't be bothersome for the masses who haven't seen Saved and aren't familiar with Malone's work.
What's even more distracting is that Sex and the U.S.A. places nearly all of our youth in their early to mid-teens, while all of our actors were, at the earliest, in their early 20's when the film was made.
Rather than feeling like an authentic film that explores complex issues impacting today's teens, too often Sex and the U.S.A. feels like a gathering of a bunch of youth advisers who don't quite believe the words they are speaking. That's the film's biggest challenge, and Wellman never overcomes it...nothing in Sex and the U.S.A. ever feels real, as even early in the film certain members of the abstinence club seem almost to be rolling their eyes at the entire proposition. In order to bond with these characters and to understand their dilemmas, it's necessary to believe that they are, at least on some level, serious about their convictions.
Such faith never exists in a film that is most certainly not about faith as much as it is about the inability of adults to connect with today's teens in a way that helps them wind their way through the maze that sexuality presents in our technological era.
What could have been entertaining, convicting and insightful becomes trite and irrelevant, Wellman too often leaning towards gratuitous camera work rather than the lives of the teenagers.
The film's failure to connect isn't the fault of scripter Stephanie K. Smith, whose dialogue often resonates deeply and whose words these young actors bring to life rather nicely. Said to be based upon a true story, it's disturbing that Sex and the U.S.A. never actually feels true.
Gigi Malavasi's camera work nicely incorporates an intertwining of traditional camera work with webcam footage, Youtube recordings and social media pages, a unique approach that fits the subject matter nicely even if it never completely gels as a film.
While its subject matter is intriguing and Smith's dialogue frequently connects, Sex and the U.S.A. ultimately falls short of being the serious examination of abstinence-only education that it wants to be.
For more information on the DVD release of Sex and the U.S.A., visit the Breaking Glass website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic