Another review requested by S. It’s becoming increasingly evident that I am having a good time working through the list she requested/recommended. More than ever, I feel like all hope is not lost with my review writing and that someone, somewhere respects what I do, and that is often enough to keep me going. That she addresses herself as “my biggest fan” not only humbles me a great deal any more but only adds the icing to the cake of the wonderful movies suggested. Lest we forget, words and movies are the best way to carve a niche in my heart.
CAUTION: Implied spoilers and a personal rant embedded somewhere in the middle.
Teenage Dirtbag is a small-budget indie movie directed, scripted by Regina Crosby based on somewhat true events. I looked up background details on her and the lead cast but I’ve decided not to bore you with the details because well, my goodness, can I not wait to write about this movie already.
If you’re like me and not quick to discount a book, movie or any other form of media by simply its name or in this case, IMDB description then you’re in for a huge delight. Teenage Dirtbag is way more than what meets the eye in the first few minutes. I say this because I watched this movie thinking I knew exactly what I was in for. I’ve been doing that lately. I’ve been afraid to find triggers in movies and books that remind me of a life I had. A life I may no longer have any access to. It’s difficult to be that one person society is expecting you to be every single day. Unbearable when you’ve agreed to be that way and have no way of going back. And this is what Amber’s point of conflict is. Let’s start from scratch now, shall we?
Teenage Dirtbag is a non-linear film surrounding the high school prim and proper cheerleader, intelligent, pretty to a point of unnecessary perfection girl named Amber and the typical high school delinquent, Thayer. The movie starts off with a present day scenario where Amber is leading her days rather incoherently as she carries inside her a tiny human being. Flashback to high school. Think back to that one person you met in high school who was so thoroughly exhausting, annoying and downright difficult to avoid as much as you tried, especially if you tried. That one person of the opposite sex that tried their level hardest to get your attention and as exasperating as it was, you secretly enjoyed it. I know I did.
Thayer is a deeply troubled boy trying to put on a brave-enough-to-eat-absolutely-anything obnoxious front at school while he can barely stand up to his abusive father back at home. Amber, on the other hand, excels at all the tiny and big accomplishments a girl can perform well at in high school but is neglected by her family and yearns for their appreciation. It’s hard to say that this part, right here, isn’t already sounding like the usual good girl meets bad boy cliché. But believe me when I say it’s hardly like that.
So, Amber is obviously the only person indifferent and quite unamused by Thayer’s ridiculous, cringe-worthy shenanigans that usually squeeze out reactions from everyone else. Amber, in the first person narrative describes how in retrospect all of her actions and the lack thereof, affected Thayer deeply and led from one thing to the other. It’s hard to tell what Amber feels about everything that happened back when they were young and free, whether, in hindsight she wishes she had behaved differently. But that’s me getting ahead of myself. Anyway coming back, Amber decides early on that Thayer is unworthy of her attention. She makes this so apparent at times, you have to wonder whether that really helps anyone at all. What this does is builds an air of mystery around her and attracts Thayer towards her, mostly subconsciously at the start and later, quite intensely.
As much as Amber believes that her misfortune of always being in such close proximity with Thayer is only because of the alphabetical ordering of their surnames, they end up together in a Creative Writing class. Their interactions through poetry and prose and the underlying hints passed on through verse draws them together in ways otherwise unimaginable. You see them forging a bond that is strained from the very start. Amber plays along with this and chooses to communicate with Thayer of her own volition when people aren’t paying attention. So they start passing notes during study hour. As they start developing a half-decent relationship with each other, they start to realize that both of them have issues at home that have some degree of commonality. Here’s my bone to pick with the story, Thayer and Amber were attracted to each other regardless of this angle to the plot. Anyway, I’m not one to bicker about such things too much and let me take this sour spot to diverge into parallels I love drawing between the reel life and my real life.
High school where I grew up was nothing like the one Thayer and Amber studied at or like any other high schools depicted in Western cultures. Hell, we don’t even call it “high school” per se. However, people – as I’ve been picking up on so acutely over the past few months are more or less the same in all parts of the world. So, there was a person exactly like Thayer in my life. There were two whole years that I look back on and ponder about but never speak out loud. This boy had an interest in me that aggravated me very much at the start. Recovering from a terrible break-up at the time, the last thing I needed was excessive attention and a need to overshare and thereby get really intimate with another. Fortunately, this boy for me was just a simple “no” and all of his playful (I suppose?) advances were dismissed by me and termed “hopelessly cheesy”. Onlookers laughed at us pulling off the girl-boy best friend stance and to a great extent we nervously laughed with them, too. Knowing that we each had very different personal lives but were more or less stuck in the same classroom for hours on end, we grew comfortable to a point that any kind of lack of attention from the other, resulted in a huge fight and another fact that we never admitted – jealousy. Days caught up to weeks and months and years. Time changed. We moved on with our lives. I put my foot down, asked for a choice that had me or someone else and said hurtful things and when this boy demanded I say something, anything, just like Amber, I said nothing at all. And just like Amber, in present time, I have no way of knowing how he is. I have ruthlessly chopped all means of contact and all I can do now, is wonder.
Coming back, there are scenes in the movie that give me goosebumps and I can see how they have actually been drawn from the writer and director’s personal experiences. Teenage love can be made to look all too fine and perfect on the big screen and many of these moments between Thayer and Amber are handled very carefully to bring forth more than just what meets the eye. The Creative Writing class professor brings to his character such genuineness and clarity that it’s hard not to feel you’re actually in that class with everybody else. Even that character was not stereotyped completely or overplayed. Thayer and Amber’s back and forth with their prose and poetry do not go unnoticed by him. He does not intervene in matters that he clearly has a good grasp about but has no right to interfere.
As the movie comes to its last lap, I had to take a deep breath and the gooey corners of my heart held on tight hoping against hopes that things work out for Thayer and Amber in the past. Despite knowing present day Amber’s condition. I guess, I was hoping for some kind of redemption from her, that her reason for never giving Thayer the time of day had only to do with society’s created norms. Films like this are hidden gems, not looking to make grand statements, targeted towards an extremely narrow audience that can draw on and appreciate even the slightest of resemblance to their past or present life.