On the surface, Little Darlings (1980) is a film about losing your virginity. but the film takes the viewer on a much more personal journey. Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell and released at the turn of the decade, the film has all the makings of a classic coming of age tale. The story follows straight talking Angel Bright (Kirsty McNicol) and white collared Ferris Whitney (Tatum O’Neal) as they compete in a race to lose their virginity during their summer at Camp Little Wolf. Appearing polar opposites, the girls pick their romantic targets and attempt to navigate womanhood, ultimately becoming comfortable in their own adolescence and forging friendships along the way.
We find all the usual teen-film archetypes in the film; the popular girl, the brainy one, the fat girl, the hippie, the joker. The girls are portrayed brilliantly by the mostly female cast with some early stand out performances by Cynthia Nixon (Sunshine) and Matt Dillon (Randy). The performances of Little Darlings range from brutally real to slap-stick. The unpolished performances of some of the young actresses help communicate the authenticity of the group’s formative story. There is something very sincere about the lewd yet naive conversations had by the young women, something that I could identify with as a teenager.
Throughout the film, the girls each have their own personal revelations on how they view sex and relationships. The (nauseatingly) romantic Ferris sets her sights on camp counselor Mr. Callahan and gets her Romeo & Juliet ideals quashed when he spurns her advances. Whilst Ferris is navigating her heartbreak she finds out that her parents are also getting a divorce, her mother running off to New York to open a boutique and ‘find herself’. When Angel has her sexual awakening she opens herself up to a myriad of emotions after she finds out sex is more than the physical. She allows herself to be soft, to be emotive and to be hurt. McNicol’s raw portrayal of Angel’s reaction to losing her virginity is bleak, numb and real. Her overwhelm pours out through the screen and resonates with the audience.
The girls leer, taunt and objectify the objects of their affections, a refreshing change from the usually rowdy male-centric gaze in teen-exploitation films of the era. What makes the film so amusing is both the frankness and naivety of the girls when it comes to discussing sex. Peppered amongst the hard-hitting dialogue, Little Darlings also has its share of laughs. In particular, a fantastic scene where Angel expertly hot wires a school bus and drives to a public restroom in search of contraception, all set to the soundtrack of Blondie’s One Way or Another.
The film successfully shows the pivotal life changes faced by the girls through the diversity of activities they get up to during camp. Drinking beers, chain-smoking Marlboros and flirting with older men are juxtaposed with food fights, stuffing training bras and acting in twee musicals. Each girl is relatable to the viewer and the film successfully navigates hormonal lust and the eternal teenage desire to fit in. Nowadays a film like Little Darlings would not be as relatable with young women due to increasingly early social media exposure but its story still has its place in female friendships.
Little Darlings was shown as part of Pity Party’s Suitable Women: Films of Female Friendship screenings at the Contemporary Centre of Arts, Glasgow.
by Casci Ritchie
Casci Ritchie is an independent dress historian specialising in fashion, film and consumer cultures. Her true great loves – film and fashion – began when she watched her first film noir, The Big Sleep, as a teenager and fell in love Bacall and Bogie hook line and sinker. Some of her favourite films include Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Beetlejuice, Double Indemnity and Cry Baby. You can find her over on Twitter at @CasciTRitchie & her blog www.casciritchie.com.