DVD Drop: These kids today
Want to see Miley Cyrus' latest? It's out on video this week
Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore in LOL (Lionsgate)
In a fairly quiet release week, a curious trend has emerged: Three of the features that are making their DVD debut are about the challenges facing modern teenagers. And each movie attempts to deliver a defining statement about the way young people live today -- though only one of them throws in a knife-wielding maniac and a time-traveling space bear. No, really.
The films are Lisa Azuelos' LOL, Noel Clarke's 126.96.36.199 and Joseph Kahn's Detention. Azuelos is French; Clarke, English, and Kahn, American. Each film comes from a very different perspective and fits into a different genre: LOL is a multicharacter drama, 188.8.131.52 is more of a crime picture, and Detention... well, I'm not entirely sure what Detention is, and that's a net positive, because when a movie refuses to fit into any genre, that means you really have to pay attention.
Let's start with LOL, because it seems like the slightest of the three. And you could be forgiven for thinking it's just another straight-to-video teenpic, given the art on the DVD -- a shot of star Miley Cyrus lying on her back on a shag rug, fiddling with her iPhone -- looks exactly like dozens of Cyrus' existing publicity photos, except that she's fully clothed and she's not looking at the camera. And sure, if you're trying to sell a Miley Cyrus movie to a North American audience, that's how you'd go.
Thing is, both the movie and the story behind it are a little more interesting. LOL is a remake of LOL: Laughing Out Loud, a French film written and directed by Azuelos in 2008. Azuelos herself is behind the American version, casting Cyrus and Demi Moore in the mother-daughter roles originally played by Christa Theret and Sophie Marceau.
Both films explore the generation gap between today's teens and their parents, who were teens themselves not so long ago. But a couple of decades is a really long time, in cultural and societal terms, and there's not much hope of finding common ground when one of you grew up with texting and webcams and the other one remembers having to get up and physically turn the dial on the TV set to change channels. (Kids, ask your grandparents.)
The problem with LOL, the American version, is that it seems to be a direct remake of the original, without accounting for differences in American and European social mores. The broader, more confrontational approach Azuelos takes feels culturally tone-deaf, as though her actors were either uncomprehending of her goals in a particular scene, or outright uncomfortable with them. (A scene involving Ashley Hinshaw, a webcam and a raw chicken feels like it's been dropped in from an American Pie movie -- and even there, it'd be a tough sell.)
184.108.40.206, on the other hand, suffers from trying too hard to be American. Writer-director Clarke -- who started out as an actor, and spent a few years playing Rose's boyfriend, Mickey, on Doctor Who -- has built up a successful side career writing and directing gritty, confrontational movies like Kidulthood and its sequel, Adulthood. The thing is, those were really just British versions of adrenalized '90s thrillers like Human Traffic and Go, made for an audience that hadn't yet discovered them in the video bins.
Clarke comes full circle with his latest, a pan-Atlantic crime picture starring Emma Roberts, Ophelia Lovibond, Tamsin Egerton and Shanika Warren-Markland as young women caught up in various crime stories over two very busy days. It's all very busy and frenetic, and the movie can certainly be sold on its energy, but when it's all over you're not left with very much.
But that brings us to Detention, a movie so stuffed with incident and character and flat-out weirdness that once you've watched it you'll spend days feeling it bounce around behind your eyes. Joseph Kahn, who made the goofball motorcycle actioner Torque back in 2002, brings the same giddy deconstructionist sensibility to the high-school movie.
Assembling an impressive cast of young faces, including a pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson and the impressive newcomer Shanley Caswell, Kahn has crafted a gonzo entertainment about a bunch of small-town seniors whose boring trudge to graduation is interrupted by public drama, private tensions and some psycho slasher bent on picking them off one by one. (Yes, this is also the movie with the bear.)
There are dozens -- if not hundreds -- of movies that sound similar to Detention, but that's a purely superficial comparison. Dozens if not hundreds of movies are set in high schools and revolve around the problems of young people, and of course Donnie Darko threw a paranormal curve ball at John Hughes' self-satisfied teenverse right around the same time Kahn was making Torque. But Detention is unprecedented in its take on high school as a world of hyper-present, constantly connected kids who are overstimulated in every sense of the word -- and that's before Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo fold in mutants, time travel and that whole demented slasher angle. (Also, Dane Cook is in it.)
I have never seen a movie like Detention, and I have no idea who it was made for, aside from Kahn himself. But the best movies come from that sort of unfettered creative burst, and Kahn was definitely onto something. His movie says more about the generation gap than LOL does, and more about the adrenalized state of being that is youth than 220.127.116.11 does, without even trying. And that makes it more than worth a look on an otherwise quiet week.
Just, you know, mind the bear.
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org