A L L . O P I N I O N . N O . F A C T
Kids in the Empire: Coming of Age

Teenage coming-of-age films have always been one of my favorite, if not my favorite, film genres. So, to treat myself, I rented two semi-recent releases -- "Empire records" and "Kids" -- and watched them both on a rainy Friday evening.

As expected, teenagers still come of age in old-fashioned ways, even in the angstful mid-to-late 90's. I only wish that movies could be more brave and creative with these trauma-to-truth, lamb-to-tiger narratives. "Empire" and "Kids," while good in many ways, still fall short, and come nowhere close to "Harold and Maude" status.

"Empire records" utilizes a standard good-versus-evil plot: the fabulous-looking teenagers who work together at a hip record store unite to help their hip manager-boss save the store from imminent buy-out by a national chain of record-store franchises. If the store's owner succeeds in his evil plot to turn the store into a musictown franchise, then the hip employees and manager will all be fired, or at least will not be able to wear their chic clothes and have multiple navel piercings if they wish to keep their cool, cool jobs.

One by one, the kids whom we, the audience, were to have originally viewed as perfect, face life-altering challenges and survive. even the manager, who doubles as the father figure, discovers himself.

Why did i like it? The teens were absolutely adorable, the dialogue was "fresh" (in cliche movie-review speak) and the soundtrack allowed for a lot of on-screen dancing, one of my favorite underutilized camp-movie-vehicles.

"Kids" was a different flavor altogether. There was a lot of hype about Kids when it came out ... some people gushed that it was "brilliant;" others screamed in terror that it was "misogynistic" and "evil." I read many an article that complained that "kids would never behave that way."

Truly, none of the above captures the truth. I was neither overwhelmed nor horrified by the movie. It struck me, frankly, as a pretty realistic portrayal of teen "antics" and play. The movie's writer had the dialogue and style down cold. and, for that matter, it does not seem fair to label the film mysogynist. Perhaps the boy-kids were in fact mysoginistic, but both the girls-kids and the boy-kids had a chance to express their points of view on screen. If the female characters were more sympathetic, that was perhaps a consequence of the fact that the boys were for the most part, assholes. Also realistic.

Kids' plot line, however, was weak. Like "Empire Records," the movie utilized a basic "good versus evil" script. One girl discovers that she was given the HIV virus by a boy who has a liking for "fucking (and then dumping) virgins." She spends the rest of the day seeking out this boy before he succeeds in infecting (and killing) another victim.

I enjoyed Kids for its view of new york city, its insight into teenage culture, and its honesty. Yet i was not overwhelmed. Although it broke new ground, utilized a formulaic vehicle to do its farming.

I am still hoping for a coming-of-age that comes close to capturing the heart and spirit of "Harold and Maude." Something tells me I'll be waiting a long time. Like Godot, perhaps.

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Copyright 1996 Rebecca Eisenberg mars@bossanova.com. All rights reserved.