Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, April 23, 2018

Director Report Card: Adrian Lyne (1980)

What the heck happened to Adrian Lyne? The British director rose out of commercials and went on to direct some of the most iconic films of the eighties. He continued to find commercial and critical success in the nineties. And then, after making one more film in 2002, he has been very quiet. It would seem that Lyne's career is a casualty of Hollywood's increasing indifference to mid-budget dramas. But let's not focus on the past. Let's return to the beginning of the director's whose films, for many, define the sweaty, sleazy but still glossy 1980s.

1. Foxes

As long as I can remember, my dad has been a huge fan of Jodie Foster. I'm not going to delve into why this is, though the reasons are probably pretty creepy. Whatever the reason, over the years, I've seen probably more Jodie Foster movies than most people. And a favorite of my dad is 1980's “Foxes.” The movie combined his love of Foster and the greasy seventies atmosphere. The movie was also the feature debut of director Adrian Lyne, after making two shorts. Though his first full length movie, the film seems to dabble in some of the same themes that Lyne would touch on later.

The seventies are coming to a close but, for four teenage friends, the party rages on. Jeanie, Deirdre, Madge, and Annie go to school during the day. At night, they hang out in the San Fernado Valley's party scene, drinking too much, sleeping around, and doing too many drugs. However, complications soon arise in their lives. Annie's police officer father is abusive. Jeanie has her own struggles with her divorced parents. Madge has low self esteem and Deirdre is juggling too many guys. Soon enough, the party is going to be over.

“Foxes” is of a tradition of movies, which stretch back to the drive-in flicks of the fifties and would continue with the cinema of Larry Clark and movies like “Havoc.” Call it the teens-ploitation movie. Films like this depict teenagers having wild, irresponsible times, indulging drugs and other vices. While it ostensibly condemns these actions, the movie also happily luxuriates in this sleazy behavior. To be fair, “Foxes” is one of the better examples of this genre, being neither too excessive nor too judgmental. But its placement inside the genre is fairly evident.

“Foxes” pretends its protagonists' indulgences as a fact of life. The girls drink casually and too much. They skip school to party. Some of them trade boyfriends freely. Oddly, drug use is referenced in dialogue but rarely depicted on camera. Yet it seems the girls are less out-of-control than they are merely troubled. “Foxes” spends just as much time on the emotional hangover following their good times. Jeanie actively wonders if this is all there is and worries about her friends a lot. The consequences on their actions are focused on, giving the movie more of a “coming of age” feeling than an exploitation feeling. If you're taking a historical view, maybe “Foxes” is an example of its filmmakers feeling some regrets after a wild decade wrapped up.

“Foxes” is lent a lot by its time and setting. The San Fernado Valley location brings with it a lot of personality. One scene has the girls driving down Hollywood Boulevard, where they interact with pimps and streetwalkers. Another scene has Jeanie and a friend hanging out in the Hollywood hills. There's a distinct California atmosphere even to the scenes set in the suburbs, sweaty and ocean bordering. And it's not the California that exists today. Though released at the dawn of the new decade, “Foxes” is quintessentially set in the dying days of disco. The fashion, the music, and the social attitudes root it in a specific time and place. It's an appealing combination.

The struggles the girls have with their parents and boyfriends are also undeniably seventies. Jeanie's mom is an almost classical example of the “me generation” parent. While her daughter is struggling with her own problems, her mom is off chasing a recently divorced man. At one point, she leaves the home altogether, disappearing for almost a week. In a circumstance that is unlikely to fly today, another one of the teenage girls begins dating a man ten years older than her. This isn't consider creepy or weird. When the two get married, it provides something like a happy ending. My, how the times have changed.

Adrian Lyne has listed the French New Wave and Neo-Realist as influences. You can see this European style at work in “Foxes.” Lyne's camera frequently gets up-close with his characters and their world. The opening scene hovers around the debris lying around the girls' room – junk food wrapping, fast food boxes – establishing their youthful and lackadaisical wastefulness. The scenes of the girls eating breakfast or talking among themselves have an intimate feeling. When a fight breaks out at a party, Lyne is right there with the characters, tumbling through tables and windows. Considering Lyne is a British director making a movie about American teenagers, there's an almost documentary edge to his cinematic style. Like an anthropologist exploring a new culture.

More than anything else, it's the cast that makes “Foxes” work. This was the last film Jodie Foster would make before she took a four year break to go to college. This signaled the end of the “child star” phase of her career. Foster's talent was already obvious by now. She plays Jeanie as more attuned than her friends. She dreams of moving to New York and becoming a painter. She describes her sexual affairs in an almost academic manner, saying she simply curious. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Jeanie has her head screwed on the tightest. Foster happily inhabits these attributes. Wise beyond her years but still with a youthful energy, its an ideal part for her.

The film would also be the acting debut of Cherie Currie, the infamous lead singer of the Runaways. She plays Annie, by far the most wild and out-of-control of the quartet. This is largely due to an abusive, controlling father. Considering Currie had already survived rock stardom by this point, and had the visible tattoo to prove it, one can't help but assume her take on Annie is slightly autobiographical. (Amusingly, she even gets a line deriding punk fashion in favor of disco.) The character's frequently intoxicated or drugged-out state seems accurate. Currie has a unique vibe as an actress, gifted with an invigorating but unnervingly manic energy. And her youth provides a vulnerability. These attributes suit the part of a troubled teenage girl.

Of the four girls, one really stands out. Madge is heavier than the others and wears nerdy glasses. She begins the film as a virgin and it really stresses her out. While the other girls have absent or abusive parents, Madge's mom and sister are perhaps too involved in her life. Playing this part is Marilyn Kagan, whose brief career would also include eighties slasher cult classic “The Initiation.” Kagan projects a shyness as Madge. While not the most tragic of the girls, she's the one you can't help but feel sorry for the most. Her friends have other, more serious problems. Madge is just struggling with the typical insecurities of being a teenager. Which makes her strife more relatable.

Of the four girls, Kandice Stroh's Deirdre probably gets the least to do. She has the most boyfriends and shines during a scene where she flirts with another guy on the phone. However, her arc has an abbreviated feeling. Among the other cast is a young Scott Biao, as the young boy the girls treat more like a younger brother than a potential romantic partner. Randy Quaid, of all people, appears as Madge's much older boyfriend. Quaid has that same unhinged energy here that he frequently brings to his performances, making Madge's suitor seem even more inappropriate. The film was also an early role for Laura Dern, who appears briefly as a girl talking about diaphragms at a party.

Though I've heard “Foxes” compared to “Saturday Night Fever,” the film is much less about disco culture. Jeanie's dad is the road manager to Angel and the girls watch the band perform. (They also sing a number called “20th Century Foxes,” which was likely meant to be the movie's theme song.) The girls' taste veers towards general pop music, as they listen to Boston and Cher throughout the film. Nevertheless, the soft piano driven overture of Donna Summer's “On the Radio” is the main musical refrain throughout “Foxes.” It provides a sad, introspective feeling to many scenes. Giorgio Moroder provides the score. His electronic music sometimes feels a little out of place, as in a skateboard assisted chase scene, but it seems like a suitably hip choice for the film's composer.

“Foxes” received some critical praise in 1980. Roger Ebert gave it good notices and Jodie Foster was nominated for a Young Artist Award. However, audiences would mostly overlook the movie. Outside of Foster fans like my dad, it doesn't seem to have much of a cult following either. (Though that didn't keep it from being played on eighties HBO a lot.) Still, “Foxes” is worth seeing. The performances are strong. The film's visual approach and feel is appealing. The script is fairly predictable but still heart-felt. The ending is a bit downbeat but “Foxes” is ultimately a minorly rewarding watch. [Grade: B]

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