Deflower Power

Recently a woman I know in her early 20s--about the same age as Sarah Jacobson, the writer/director of Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore--told me that, though she was well-versed in films ranging from The In-Laws to Pretty in Pink to Tommy Boy, she had been chided by a friend for "not being fluent in Fletch." It occurred to me then that movies of the last two decades or so that I had seen as fluffy, entertaining time-killers were the very films that had saturated the sensibility of the generation now under 30.

Even allowing that the setting of Mary Jane is an arthouse theater, the references to Gen X cinema run pretty thick. "Do you remember that movie Reckless, with Aidan Quinn and Darryl Hannah?" asks the titular heroine of this very low-budget coming-of-age yarn. "Yeah," replies her friend, in a tone that suggests that it's a silly question. Who doesn't know Reckless?

Mary Jane's gay friend remembers the high school jock with whom he had his first sexual experience as looking just like Jason Patric in The Lost Boys. A young pregnant woman complains that her boyfriend wants to put the soundtrack from Eraserhead on the birth video. Even the family-values activist (a funny cameo by Jello Biafra, the film's only name player) extols the virtues of the 1984 John Milius right-wing fantasy Red Dawn.

In interviews, the movies Jacobson claims to have been most influenced by are John Hughes teen pics like Sixteen Candles and the slightly harder-edged '80s sex comedies like Porky's and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mary Jane seems intended to blend the distaff viewpoint of the former sort with the raw, eager--and generally male--sexuality of the latter.

The results, while cinematically crude, are often remarkably naturalistic. In the opening scene, high schooler Mary Jane--played by the likable Lisa Gerstein of My Life's in Turnaround--is unfeelingly deflowered by her date (Shane Kramer) in a cemetery. She's a smart, tough, well-balanced girl, and she's hardly shattered by the experience, but she's also sure that this isn't all there is to sex. So she starts asking her co-workers at the arthouse to tell her about their first times.

This is a solid device, allowing for a series of scenes in which we hear the background of different characters--men and women, gay and straight, nice people and jerks. The conversations sound amazingly overheard. Mary Jane's punker friend Ericka (Beth Allen) gives her kind, unembarrassed advice on how to masturbate to learn what she likes so that the next time around will be better. And there's no hint of leering or tittering to the way the scene is played--Jacobson might almost intend it as a primer for girls in the audience.

Mary Jane's aforementioned reference to Reckless is to note that when Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah make love for the first time in a boiler-room, it's incredibly romantic, but that in real life, it would just be getting it on in a dirty boiler-room. That's the movie's stop-the-presses revelation--that love and sex are different from how they look in the movies. But in Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore, the resemblance is closer than usual.

Finally, Mary Jane gives it another try, this time with somebody who cares about her feelings. Jacobson presents the scene without background music, and she leaves in all the fumbling and experimentation. The results are far more erotic than the artfully posed, swoony tussles we get in most films, and also funnier and more touching.

In other respects, Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore is shakier--Jacobson's attempts at ironic fantasy sequences don't really come off, and there are long, poky scenes that feel suspiciously like padding. Indeed, the film goes on way too long after the big sex scene. Jacobson trumps up a tragedy to keep the narrative rolling, but the movie's really over as soon as Mary Jane gets it right.


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