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Francis Ford Coppola
As Lurid as the Title Suggests, but not your Typical Juvie Flick
As a lover of 1950s juvenile delinquent films, I sought out EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS for years. I expected a cross between the more serious efforts like BLUE DENIM and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and the fun, slightly cautionary fare such as HOT ROD GIRL, HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR or DRAGSTRIP RIOT. My guess was somewhat on the mark, but EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS proved to be even more of a departure.
The plot concerns a nice, normal teen girl who plans to marry her high school sweetheart, as soon as they graduate. His untimely death derails those plans, but not as much as the discovery that he's left her in the family way. To say much more would be spoilerish, but suffice to say her loved ones don't understand, and her life spirals downward faster than her late beau's race car.
Surprisingly, though an early scene takes place in a soda shop where a DJ does his radio show, the film contains almost no rock 'n' roll. Rather, jazz is prevalent in both the story and soundtrack. That the main character, a pregnant 18-year-old girl, interacts as much with various adults as with fellow teens, and that the preggers protagonist is less than sympathetic much of the way lead the film into unusual territory for a juvie.
In many ways EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS is more of a noir, than a juvenile delinquent flick: The jazz setting and sound, the less-than-lovable anti-heroine, plus various unsavory adults, rather than the squaresville but well-meaning parental units of most JD entries. It's also rather bleak, as noirs can often be.
The acting is above average; not great, but better than one might expect from a lurid, low budget teen drama. The great Jim Backus, best known for comedic roles, but just a few years removed from playing dad to James Dean, gives a strong performance, pulling no punches as a boorish step papa. Mary Webster does nice work as the troubled teen. She carries the film, and delivers an impressive arc as her character either drifts into bad behavior, or shows her true colors. That the character's real motives and morals are left unclear makes for an interesting second act. Director Joe Parker and writers Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson deserve credit for skirting the rules and taking some risks with a fairly tried and true genre.
EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS is darn near impossible to find, but should you get your hands on a copy, it's a fairly fascinating rarity that works as both a noir and as a juvie.
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