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Puberty Blues  

Puberty Blues is a very low-budget Australian film made in 1981, and is ample evidence that other countries fall victim to the lure of the silly teen flick. While this particular film does have fairly serious intent, the result is really not much more than a R-rated version of an eighties after-school special, or of an episode of the Canadian series Degrassi High. The film tries to be cute, and is far too soft about the nature of teenage lifestyles for my liking.

The story takes place mainly on the beaches of Australia, where many of the local guys and gals hang out. Two in particular, Debbie and Sue, desire to be accepted by the supposedly cool crowd, and they do, because they actually helped two of the studly surfer guys cheat on a test. So now they experience all what they've always wished for: boyfriends, sex, drinking, drugs, and being out all hours of the night. Yet problems arise, not least being the threat of pregnancy for one of the girls. And the two of them are unsure whether or not there really is anything substantial in their aimless lives.

I have the feeling that director Bruce Beresford must have had some lapse of sanity while making this picture. The direction is not particularly inventive, and neither the plot nor the actors are particularly memorable. These flaws are more glaring when you realize that Beresford has directed a classic before (Breaker Morant) and after (Tender Mercies) Puberty Blues. You might say that Beresford was attempting to go for the seemingly plotless feel that he succeeded with creating in Tender Mercies, but I think that Beresford must have had the delusion that he was a really hep cat, and therefore decided to hang out with the surfer dudes and ogle the young chicks in their bikinis. And we get visual evidence of this in an adoring montage of the moves of those very same surfer dudes and the flesh of those very same young chicks. We also get lots of typical scenes of kids trying not to get caught with cans of beer in their possession, lots of scenes at drive-ins and other places of abject boredom, and a patently ridiculous fight scene that made me wonder if there weren't in fact two Bruce Beresfords: one who directed all these great movies, and the other, who directed this one.

Actually, the biggest problem for a misanthrope like me is not the direction, or the director, but the screenplay. The film can only throw softballs at these losers, mainly because the film is aimed at similar losers, er, I mean teenagers, so of course we just cannot dare to insult them and their lifestyles too much.

There is potential in the content; much is made of the inherent sexism involved in the organization of these kids. While the men can do what they want, the women have to be second-class and they better like it, dammit. The most extreme example of this involves an outcast of the group, who is so desperate for attention from the cool guys that she actually participates in what I`d classify as a gang rape, where three guys actually take turns having sex with her. Of course, we do not actually witness this horror in ways which may make us really question these kids. The film treats this almost as frivolity. Sex itself is seen here as a male activity: when one of the girls actually loses her virginity to the first of two boyfriends she will have during the film's running time, she is practically thrown on the floor so he can attempt, if I may be crass, to shove it to her, while she winces in pain. I thought this was a very painful scene to view, although everybody else involved in the production seemed to believe this had the potential for comedy.

The film also can only manage a half-hearted attempt to show how boring these people really are. All they do is surf, drink, and screw; they do not have any conversations of any meaning or importance, they don`t have any real quirks that I could remember, and they do not seem to have any discernable future goals. A good film could be made which analyses these facts, but this film only bores us, because there is no point to make. The script does not attempt to give any depth to the situation, and that is because the creators were just plain scared to do it, without potentially angering the teenage audience. If you really want to make a film which condemns, or at least criticises, teenage lifestyles, you have to be a pretty unsentimental individual, one who has not been seduced by the cult of youth. Bresford has fallen for that particular temptress. But you can also make a film which does appeal to teenagers, and yet still be witty and entertaining (The Breakfast Club and Ten Things I hate About You are decent examples). But Bresford has lost that particular challenge as well. So, overall, Puberty Blues is nothing more than a fluffy trifle which will be far overshadowed by both better Bresford movies, and better teen movies.

David Macdonald

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