Teenage Cocktail Review [SXSW 2016]
Young love is never, and will never, be easily navigated, which is a reality that writer/director John Carchietta bottles for a bubbly, provocative drink dubbed Teenage Cocktail.
There’s a beauty in the way that Carchietta (and co-writers Sage Bannick/Chris Sivertson/Amelia Yokel) balance pretty-in-pink teenage crushing with warm, comforting relationship notes, with the added bonus of being a twisted obsession thriller. Because that’s what teenage wilds are all about, right? Hormones, brash decisions, devoted love, thoughts of independence, and the truly dangerous cocktail those emotional factors form – something a bartender might call “Your Chaotic Childhood.” Carchietta understands this insanity, and leads viewers on a sensual journey with a wicked sense of danger. This is a story about love, and the crazy fucking shit we do in its name.
Nichole Bloom stars as Annie, a typical teen who develops a not-so typical crush on her dance-loving classmate, Jules (Fabianne Therese). The two develop a friendship based on girlish bonding and equal adoration, but still traverse their high school with caution concerning their secret romance. This changes when Jules introduces Annie to an online service called JamCam, where woman can get paid to act sexy on camera from the safety of home. But when Annie’s secret is exposed, the teens exploit a lonely pool cleaner named Frank (Pat Healy) in hopes of a worthwhile payday – which proves to be a poor, and dangerous choice.
The chemistry between Bloom and her co-star Fabianne Therese is the connective glue holding Teenage Cocktail together, as they traverse murky sexual waters too taboo to be discussed openly. The struggles of a young lesbian are addressed healthily, and with an unbiasedly sweet exposure, as their same-sex relationship never poses a true problem, just more an innocent, playful exploration of love.
Michelle Borth, as Annie’s mother, has a wonderful reactionary scene where she walks into Annie’s room, interrupting the girl’s first heavy makeout session. There’s a pause, puzzled processing, and that wonderful “OHHHH!” moment so sweet and sincere in its protective mothering (as she leaves, then comes all the way back to leave the door wide open).
Of course, the reason Annie and Jules exude so much chemistry is because of Bloom and Therese themselves. Scripts can’t force emotion, but these two are primed for this gossipy, heavy-petting romance straight from the get-go. Annie shyly embraces her attraction to Jules, and Bloom does a wonderful job remaining coy, yet impressionable enough to grab an entire candy dish while dashing out of a diner. Therese is the more confident one of the two, and does an even better job manipulating lusty desires for her own, boredom-killing benefit. The two work tremendously well together, though, and create a relationship reminiscent of young, stupid love that bursts with invigorating, life-completing passion.
Teenage Cocktail isn’t just about finding love and escaping your boring suburban prison, and that’s where master creep Pat Healy comes in. Typically cast as the glasses-wearing, harmless type, Healy gets another chance to flex his genre muscles as a sleazy, kiddie-baiting cheater. Here’s where Carchietta and company really explore their story’s fiendish side, as two immature, radically acting girls ruin a man’s established life, that, while disfunction, is all he has. Frank risks divorce by meeting them, and after Jules snaps some pictures, everyone involved realizes there are consequences for their actions. The stark contrast between adulthood and fleeting childishness makes for a thrilling twist, albeit a bit expected, and somewhat fantasized.
Carchietta’s direction and vision brings a lot of color and sparkle to Teenage Cocktail, which is highly appreciated. Love scenes between Jules and Annie are typically tinged with a reddish or pink lighting filter, kissing their bodies with a sensual neon glow. This works to highlight the cheery vibrancy of their age-driven connection, fueled by goofy pick-up attempts and more teenage cheesiness. When first seeking attention, Annie sits next to Jules, typing on a computer to start conversation, and when the camera pans to her screen, we, AND Jules, see she’s just been typing random letters in jumbled succession. These are the charming little intricacies that add a whimsical juvenility to their “undying” companionship, and Carchietta does his duty to make their poppy interactions just a tad-more flowery (e.g. a signifying chime whenever Annie gets excited about Jules).
It’s weird to boast so much about the fantastic collaboration between Bloom and Therese, because Teenage Cocktail is a much darker film than my review lets on. Frank is a despicable bastard, but he’s beaten down both emotionally, and physically, by two tweenie lovebirds who act recklessly in the name of schoolyard love. But, we’re drawn in by the genuine nature of both leads, and left elated by their anarchistic romance and dreams of something more. Carchietta’s vision is dangerous, dark, and daringly dreamy, and while some might find minor qualms with the more genre aspects of Teenage Cocktail, it’s still a poignant warning about unchecked, free-wielding emotions.
Teenage Cocktail is a sexy, dangerous, and delightfully devious warning about unchecked hormones and the crazy things we do for love.