Normal Adolescent Behavior

Rating 2½

Written and directed by Beth Schacter

Amber Tamblyn, Kelli Garner, Ashton Holmes, Julie Garro, Edward Tournier, Steven Coletti, Raviv Ullman, Daryl Sabara, Hilarie Burton and Kelly Lynch

Wendy (Amber Tamblyn) lives in an affluent community and is a senior at a private high school where alternative teaching methods are employed. This is demonstrated in a scene in which a philosophy class is taking place out on the campus. Shaun (Ashton Holmes), a student newly arrived at the school, points out a factual error and is told by the teacher that mistakes are not corrected in the class. The teacher says, “We don’t correct. We add and we contribute. But everything said at the table has merit.”

Wendy is one of a group of friends, three female and three male, who have known each other since kindergarten and have formed a tight and insular clique, into which nobody else is allowed to encroach, protecting themselves and each other from the outside world. These six friends engage in regular group sex-sessions, taking a different partner from within the group each time, to establish that the collective is more important than the individual. Their credo is, “No secrets. No inhibitions. No apologies.” Outside of the group, the rest of the school community frequent wild parties at which the girls routinely perform fellatio on multiple partners, all served up with free-flowing alcohol, recreational drugs and wall-to-wall pornography.

Wendy and Shaun, who are neighbours, are attracted to one another, but Wendy attempts to back away from her growing feelings, telling him, “I don’t live in that world… of disposable girlfriends. Of blowjobs for bracelets. Of macking and hooking up and going down and text-messaging some asshole who will cum all over my shirt.” However, she does become his girlfriend, causing fractures and resentments in her relationship with her friends.

The teenagers not only think of nothing but sex, but also engage in it rampantly – cold, soulless, meaningless sex, in which the girls allow themselves to be unendingly used by the boys and disposed of at will. Through our fleeting glimpses of Shaun’s parents and Wendy’s mother it is suggested this social dysfunction is carried through into adult life. Wendy and her friends have created a bubble world to protect themselves and each other from the merry-go-round of misogynist cruelty, but their relationships with one another are equally as unhealthy and screwed up.

The film tells a thoroughly nasty and depressing story about the reality of teenage life and, with very few exceptions, the characters are not at all likeable. Most, in fact, are distinctly dislikeable, although it is easy to identify why they behave in this way. I did not find it an especially enjoyable film, not least because I have an extremely low tolerance for watching teenage sex before I become heartily sick of it, and the message it contains is distinctly disheartening. It was, at least, attempting to say something and I would recommend it with a degree of caution.

‘Normal Adolescent Behavior’ was the debut film of writer and director Beth Schacter. The editing is rather rough around the edges at times, perhaps betraying a certain degree of inexperience. In some quarters the film was dismissed as a rip-off of ‘Thirteen’. I have not seen that film as yet, so I cannot comment either way.

The film premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2007, but it failed to pick up a theatrical distributor and went to Lifetime Television. For reasons best known to themselves, New Line Cinema released the DVD with the title changed to ‘Normal Adolescent Behavior: Havoc 2’, even though it bears no relation whatsoever to the 2005 Anne Hathaway film ‘Havoc’.


whitelabcoat said...

Haven't seen this, but I'll check it out (although it looks like it might be one of those movies I'd have to be in a particular 'mood' to watch). I have seen Thirteen which, from the description given here, doesn't really seem like this very much at all, bar the 'depressing film about teenage girls' angle. It's worth a look - Evan Rachel Wood is fantastic (it was the first thing I saw her in) and Holly Hunter is, well, as good as Holly Hunter usually is.

(By the way, still haven't gotten through all of JofA S1 yet - time, man, time ...)

alienlanes said...

I think the accusations that ‘Normal Adolescent Behavior’ was a rip-off of ‘Thirteen’ just came from a need to pigeonhole everything. In other words, here are two films painting a depressing picture of teenage sexual mores – one must be a rip-off of the other. Heaven forbid that this might actually be a subject worthy of more than one interpretation.

I really must get around to watching ‘Thirteen’ sometime.