I’m going back to the 80’s for this retro review, this was the era of the teen sex comedy. And while this film was marketed as one, it takes a notable departure from the typical films of the genre at the end, and this is why this particular film has always remained memorable to me.
Written and directed by Boaz Davidson and released in 1982, the film stars Lawrence Monoson, in his first professional acting role, as Gary. He’s a somewhat shy High School student who also works as a pizza delivery boy. When not in school or working he’s usually spending time with his two best friends Rick and David. And like all teenage boys, getting laid is the primary activity on their minds. Rick (played by Steve Antin) is the more self-confident one of the trio, who usually has no problem meeting girls and getting them into bed. David (Joe Rubbo) at first glance is the “funny fat guy” of the film, but he also does pretty well with girls when the opportunities arise. Gary is the one who seems to have the least experience with girls, and is more prone to strike out when given the chance to get laid, both through his own inability to make a move and through outside circumstances.
So right off the bat you have this setting which, if you’re familiar with other such films of the time period, you’d think would follow a predictable path, with the three boys going out of their way to get laid with only Gary trying and failing until he finds the perfect girl (or adult woman) and has sex with her, leading to him finally becoming a “man.” But that’s not quite what happens here. Gary does get laid during the film, but that’s about halfway through it. I’ll recap a bit, with some spoilers ahead.
In the opening sequence of the film, the boys pick up three girls (Winifred Freedman, Tessa Richarde, and Gerri Idol) at a local diner and take them back to Gary’s place, as his parents are out, with a promise of a party and some drugs. After they all snort some Sweet N Low, which the boys tell the girls is cocaine, both Rick and David take a girl back to the bedrooms, leaving Gary on the living room couch with the homeliest girl of the group. Gary awkwardly tries to make out with the girl and manages to get her shirt off but struggles to unhook her bra all the while she calmly eats a bowl of potato chips. Then Gary’s parents unexpectedly come home early, sending the group of now half-naked teens running out.
Later, Gary is boldly propositioned by a sexy older woman (Louisa Moritz) whom he delivers a pizza to. But Gary is scared to be alone with her and instead he leaves and gets Rick and David and brings them back to the woman’s apartment, where she invites them in and dances with each boy a bit before taking Rick into her bedroom and having sex with him. When he’s done, David goes in and has sex with her too. Then just before Gary has his chance to go in and have his turn with the woman, her husband shows up and chases the boys away.
Gary’s “luck” only finally comes when the boys pick up a prostitute (Nancy Brock) and take turns having sex with her in some dirty room. This time Gary goes first, but it’s shown to anything but a satisfying experience, as the prostitute mocks him and he immediately throws up afterward. And soon the boys discover that they all have crabs, which is of course treated like a hilarious development.
But the actual main plot of the film involves Karen, a new girl in the school played by Diane Franklin.
Gary spots her at the diner in the beginning of the film and immediately becomes smitten with her. One day he tracks down where she lives (creepy alert!) and lets out the air in one of the tires of the bike that she rides to school. Then when she gets ready to leave he drives by, like it’s just a coincidence, and offers her a ride to school, which she accepts. After they arrive at school he tries to ask her out for a party that night, but she says she already has plans. That night at the party Gary is shocked to see that she’s already there with Rick. This causes Gary to get drunk and go home.
As Rick and Karen’s relationship progresses, Gary acts heartbroken every time he sees them together, although no one else seems to notice this. It turns out that Karen is the actual “last American virgin” of the film’s title, but Rick is determined to convince her to have sex with him, which she eventually does, in a surprisingly tender and romantic scene (well, except for the fact that Gary is secretly watching them from afar).
Soon after that, Gary finds out that Karen is pregnant, and that Rick has just dumped her and refuses to do anything about it, or even acknowledge that the baby is his (despite previously bragging to Gary about being Karen’s first lover). Gary proceeds to comfort Karen and promises to help her. He ends up selling a bunch of his stuff (as well as steals from his parents) to raise money to take Karen out of town (this is during Christmas vacation, so school is out) to get an abortion. He also nurses her back to health as she recovers from the procedure, and tells her that he loves her. She doesn’t say it back, but they do kiss.
A week later, they’re back in town, and it’s Karen’s birthday and she’s having a big party at her house. Gary has spent even more money on an inscribed necklace for her. But when he shows up at the part, he finds Karen in the kitchen passionately kissing Rick. When the two notice him standing there, no words are said as Gary simply walks out, gets into his car, and drives away with tears rolling down his face as the credits roll. THE END.
OUCH! DAMN! I don’t know how old I was when I first saw this film, just that I was pretty young, but even then this ending was a huge punch in the gut. Like, I knew this was not how films like this are supposed to end! The good guy is supposed to get the girl, who would realize that he’s the perfect guy for her and that she should have known that all along. And then they ride off into the sunset together as if they’re going to live happily ever after, and the audience leaves the theater feeling good.
I can compare this to a later now-Classic 80’s teen movie where expectations are likewise subverted. 1986’s PRETTY IN PINK which also doesn’t go for the cliche and expected ending of having Andie end up with her good friend Duckie, but Duckie still gets his happy ending in the form of interest from another girl.
But, this, man, it was depressing AF. And Lawrence Monoson totally sells the scene, as the look on his face expresses everything that you know he’s feeling, without having to actually say a word.
And credit to Boaz Davidson for shooting it this way, there’s no angry stomping out with Karen or Rick shouting for something like “Gary, wait! Let me explain…” or anything like that. It’s far more impactful this way, and there’s really nothing that either of them, especially Karen, could say anyway.
The thing is, rewatching this movie all these years later, I can see a lot of things that I missed as a kid including the mixed messages that the film sends. First, this film almost feels like two movies at once. The first hour or so is the raunchy teen comedy that it was marketed as, complete with teenage boys with one-track minds and some decent shots of naked women (mostly just topless, but some brief full-nudity in one scene). There’s even one weird scene where after a P.E. class a group of boys go into the locker room and place a bet on who has the biggest “schlong,” and they all line up in their underwear as one by one Gary and David measure everyone’s seemingly erect penis’. That’s strangely homoerotic but fits the time period, I guess. But in the final half-hour, it’s almost like it becomes a completely different film, now it’s a serious teen drama about the consequences of sex and unhealthy relationships. The switch in tone is rather jarring, which is probably why the ending scene hits so hard.
But in a way, the ending is more realistic. In real life the good guy doesn’t always get the girl. The idea that he does is a bad message that I see popularized in many films and TV shows, and I’ve seen how it gives many young men unrealistic expectations about women. It’s why they get angry and complain about being “friendzoned” when they hang around a girl doing nice things for her thinking that’s supposed to win them over and yet it doesn’t work.
But is Gary really so nice? As I noted, the first time he sees Karen he can’t even bring himself to speak to her, although he had a perfect opportunity to at least try. Instead of tracks down her home and tricks her into needed a favor for him, so he could have an excuse to talk to her. And then he clearly thought that would make her more likely to go out with him when he asked her. Instead, she already had a date with Rick who must have met her and made a move first. Gary could have just chalked this up to, hey, you snooze you lose. He had his chance but blew it. Instead, he acts like all heartbroken, as if he was personally betrayed, but he still barely even knew Karen. I’ll note that these other attempted sexcapades with the other girls, including the hooker, all happen after Gary has met Karen, so even though he continues to moon over her, it doesn’t stop him from wanting sex from other girls. In this sense, he’s not much better than Rick, who only suddenly turns into a villain in the last half-hour of the film.
It’s also shown that Karen has a friend named Rose, played by the adorable Kimmy Robertson. From the minute they’re introduced, Rose shows clear interest in Gary. But Gary barely notices her, because he’s too focused on Karen. So you could think, hey dude, this girl you liked isn’t interested in you, that sucks but accept it and move on. Now here’s a perfectly nice girl whom you could have a shot with, why not at least give her a chance now?
But nope, he’s going to stay focused on the girl that he can’t have. Even when he reluctantly lets Rick talk him into a double date, where Gary starts to make out with Rose in the front seat of a car (as Rick and Karen make out in the backseat), it’s clear he’s still only really interested in Karen, so now he’s stringing Rose along? That’s not cool. But that particular plot-point is just suddenly dropped as if it doesn’t fit the narrative that this film wants to portray that Gary is the “nice guy” with unrequited love for Karen.
And then when Gary goes out of his way to help Karen and take care of her, it’s not like he’s doing this just out of compassion. Again, he’s doing this to get something from her. And then right after the girl has gotten over a clearly traumatizing procedure, the abortion, Gary decides to dump all his feelings on her, telling her that he loves her and has loved her since the moment he first saw her (and what could she say in a situation like that).
But NO! That doesn’t make any sense. He saw her and thought she was cute, fine, but that’s not love. And he still doesn’t really know her, and neither do we, the audience. Diane Franklin does a great job with what she is given, but she isn’t given much. Karen is basically a cipher in the film, a plot-device. We never really learn anything about her or background, or even why she’s so into Rick. She’s just a girl. And that’s the problem, we’re seeing her the same way Gary is, the film wants us to see Karen as Gary’s dream girl, but doesn’t give us any reason why. Other than her looks, what does he see in her? The film wants us to see her as the bad guy for hurting Gary, in the end. But, again, we don’t know anything about her, so we can’t speculate why she would go back to Rick the way she did. And she shouldn’t be expected to go out with Gary just because he helped her, so that feeling is unfair.
The film is also notable for its soundtrack. It relies heavily on pop/rock/r&B/new wave songs from the late 70’s and early 80’s, so musically it’s quite a time capsule for that era. Acts as diverse as The Police, the Commodores, Devo, The Cars, REO Speedwagon to James Ingram are showcased in the film, often to great affect, as specific songs are picked to match certain scenes, such as when the three boys are trying to make out with the three girls back at Gary’s place and The Waitresses “I Know What Boys Like” is playing.
So it’s not a perfect film, but it is thought-provoking.