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The story of Joanna, a 14-year-old girl who feels pressured by her peers to lose her virginity. The story, told primarily from her point of view, follows her as she self-destructs, becoming involved in a world of sex, drugs and betrayal. Including graphic and sometimes violent underage sex scenes, the film portrays an occassionally exaggerated but nonetheless disturbing and thought-provoking view of teenage sexuality. Written by
Pleasureland was originally made for the UK broadcaster Channel 4 for their controversial 'Adult at 14′ season, looking at many issues affecting teenagers in 2003. Pleasureland was playwright Helen Blakeman's first teleplay and she uses the subject matter to explore teenage sexuality, teenage pregnancy, peer pressure, hypocrisy and the destructive course one girl goes through.
Joanna "Jo" Mosscroft (Katie Lyon) is a 14-year-old Scouser girl in Year 9 from a poor single-parent family and attends a private all-girls school. All around her, she sees that her peers have boyfriends and are having sex and one day decides to join in. Lead and pressurised by her class' popular girl, Sophie (Leah Whittaker) Jo goes down a dark path in a very troubling coming-of-age story as Jo rushes to grow-up in a world of sex, drugs and betrayal.
Jo begins as a shy good girl who is an easy target for bullies, someone who is easily used and manipulated by others. Early on the film she is only invited to a party so would 'cop off' with a boy she likes and pressured into performing oral sex publicly. That action leads to Jo being called a 'dirty whore' at school, exposing the lose-lose situation that a girl could be placed in, being seen as frigid if she does not have any sexual experiences and a slut if she does.
During Pleasureland, Jo goes through her first love with an older man, a man who uses her for sex. Her personality changes, becoming more aggressive and horrible to people around her, to which she eventually becomes the bully she was formerly a victim of. She ends up going off the deep end, with drugs and alcohol during the film. She begins backstabbing and abusing everyone, including her little sister and no one seems to know how to stop her. Yet, when Jo does have sex there is pain on her face, where we see that it becomes a hollow experience for her, thinking it something she needs to do.
Pleasureland juxtaposes the ideas of Jo wanting to grow up quickly while still being seen as a child by adults. Jo thrusts herself into a dark world, getting led by others, turning from the very inexperience girl who does not know much about sex, to being the girl in school who brags, exaggerates and lies about her sex life and becomes more sexually adventurous. She wears a school uniform yet puts on make-up and tarts herself up for nights out. Jo is a girl with romantic ideals when she is in a relationship and her homework still involve things like colouring maps. When the police take Jo home the officer asks "is this your little girl" and she is taken to a children's ward when she is severely beaten.
Katie Lyon is the centre of Pleasureland and she does give a really strong performance. A particular moment is when she is heartbroken and crying in her room. It is a shame that she never continued in acting as she was only 18 when she starred in the film.
Percival was not afraid to embrace the darker and crueler parts of the story. He was explicit as he could be involving the sex scene, showing more and more as the film progresses. There are brutal moments like a fight scene between two girls and someone burning Jo's hand with a cigarette. But Percival uses a hand-held approach and the low budget shows when he uses sudden zooms and very quick cuts, making Pleasureland look like a more amateurish effort.
There are also some little issues in the film like when Jo is becoming more aggressive to the point where she arguing with teachers and running out of exams leading to the question wouldn't the school contact her mother to discuss her behaviour? Pleasureland makes out that Jo to from a poor background when it could have been more bold and relatable for the intended audience, if she was made out to be from a Middle-Class background or at least she was in the school because she had a scholarship of some sort.
Pleasureland aims to be a cautionary tale for its target audience about the perils and hypocrisy of peer pressure and the destructive effect of someone rushing into sexual relationships when they do not have the emotional maturity.
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