Oh the 1980s, a time for the teens as evidenced by the sheer multitude of teen-centric movies that came out. There’s the more well-known John Hughes movies, and the raunchy teen sex comedies (of which The Last American Virgin hails if you haven’t read my review on that film). What separates Little Darlings is its role in showing the “losing one’s virginity” storyline of LAV and other films from the girl’s perspective. It would be a few years before Fast Times at Ridgemont High showed a girl’s perspective on losing their virginity, and even then that film didn’t delve as closely as Little Darlings. Sure the movie is melodramatic and very 70s, but it’s an intriguing film that doesn’t pander to exploitation like I expected.
Two teenagers meet at summer camp and are immediately labeled as outcasts when it’s revealed their virgins. Rich girl Ferris Whitney (Tatum O’Neal) and street-smart Angel Bright (Kristy McNichol) are pitted against each other when the camp takes bets on who will be the first to “lose it,” the winner getting $100. Ferris immediately latches on and tries to seduce camp counselor Gary (Armand Assante) while Angel meets 17-year-old fellow camper Randy (Matt Dillon). Both girls take their own path towards growing up and realize that they’ve been extremely misinformed about sex.
What’s interesting is the view the movie takes on young girls and their sexuality. The movie was released in the 1980s and the girls who are ones who have seen the tail end of the feminist movement and towards the end of the 1980s movies would take a softer view of sex with the advent of AIDS. Little Darlings looks at the misinformation and need to be “experienced” in terms sex, especially for girls. When all the girls arrive on the bus they’re trying to show how “intelligent” they are by referencing that they’ve seen movies like Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Last Tango in Paris, two movies that deal with the views of sex we see throughout the movie (with Cocteau’s film being a dreamy, romantic film like Ferris and Last Tango being an extremely explicit sex film). They speak frankly about sexual matters and Ferris and Angel feel their the only virgins because of how smart these girls talk, especially the engaged Cinder (Krista Errickson).
The parents of the two girls don’t make things easier as Angel’s mother, who has had more than a few failed relationships, doesn’t know what to tell her daughter so she plays off Angel’s question by saying sex “isn’t a big deal.” Ferris’ father avoids the subject entirely as he’s coping with Ferris’ mother leaving, leaving Ferris to believe that sex is a big romantic element of finding “the one.” The two competing schools of thought are explored and change with the two characters, showing how far they come in realizing the truth about sex, and also that they’re smarter than their parents and their friends after learning about it.
McNichol and O’Neal play archetypes to be sure, with O’Neal’s poor little rich girl and McNichol’s street smart urchin, roles they’d continue to play into their teen years. This is my second Tatum O’Neal movie and seeing this next to Paper Moon is a shock. O’Neal’s character was a bit more intriguing for me, especially because you assume that her attempts to seduce her camp counselor will turn this into cheesy, exploitation. Instead Assante’s character actually is an adult about these things while McNichol goes through the genuine experience of losing her virginity to someone her own age.
In the end, the two are left a bit broken by their adventures, physically and mentally. The two learn that the notions of sex as depicted by friends and the media are wrong and the two are forced to live with the consequences. It’s a film that looks at female sexuality during your teenage years honestly, and while it was made in 1970, with how young girls are now it’s extremely prescient.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.