Early in the film, Linda (Phoebe Cates) says she had sex when she was 13 and "it's no big thing." Then she references having a fiancé in Chicago. She's painted almost immediately as a sort of de facto expert on sex, but the film version is a bit simplistic. There is little more to Linda than sex. She is the guide for Stacy into being sexually active and she is later the sexual object for Brad (and for us). Oddly enough, she never has sex during the film and matters very little to the plot after the pool scene.
There's more to her in Crowe's script (not sure of the draft, found it online). When Stacy tells her that Ron (the guy to which she loses her virginity...
Which brings me to an interesting point. I actually had to pause on that phrasing--"loses her virginity." And, then came a google ngrams graph--"his virginity" versus "her virginity" because I was curious and the internet is awesome.
At first, those results surprised me. I initially interpreted it as female virginity not being a concern but I think that graph shows the opposite, actually. Because it is a concern, we protect it and don't talk about it. But, boys... young men sowing their wild oats--that's so... accepted that it gets talked about. It's allowed, it's expected. I mean, look at Brad in this film--I'd say Damone, but that's too obvious--he's not a virgin, but he wants to be with other girls because his girlfriend of two years just doesn't put out often enough... And, I'm a little annoyed at myself for using the phrase "put out." I mean, I am trying to get into the mode of these boys in this time and this place, but there is something a little fucked up--(and, this blog has included more profanity already this month--something about these high school movies, I guess)
--about the expectation that she has to. Sure, sex is nice, and in a relationship it's fairly important, but Brad "is a senior now... a single and successful guy" so he needs his "freedom"? That just plays wrong. I think it's deliberate. Look at the trajectory of Brad's story. He loses one job, quits another, quits another... He and Lisa break up and he fantasizes about his little sister's friend and gets caught doing so. While he does a pretty good job with the hold up at the end of the film, he's presented matter-of-factly, not as pathetic, not as a role model. He's focused on sex, but the film does not really tell us that is good and somewhat implies the opposite. Then again, the film also presents us with girl's asses in jeans in the arcade in the opening montage and focuses on a girl who is obviously wearing no bra under her "Kill Lincoln" shirt before the big game.
The film does present both genders... And God damn it, I don't want to imply that there are only two. But, the film does present us with two, and both of them are obsessed with, well, sex. A particularly evocative bit during the second montage involves lockers. First, Stoner Bud (Eric Stoltz) kisses the photo of two bottomless girls in his locker, then Cindy (Kelli Maroney) is seen preening herself before a mirror inside her locker. They are both fixated on the female appearance. And, the fixation suggests the mating dance we see on display all over this film.
Ebert complains that Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after "contain[ing] so much life and light and [being] a joy to behold... is invited to plunge into offensive vulgarity." "She's curious about sex," he writes, "so the script immediately turns her into a promiscuous sex machine who will go to bed with anybody." My complaint about his complaint is twofold: 1) she has sex with Ron and Damone and seems willing to have sex with Mark. If that is promiscuous, I weep for early 80s teenagerhood. Or, at least, what adults thought of them. 2) Perhaps Ebert was so preoccupied with being offended by the sexual frankness of the film that he didn't notice that it covers an entire school year. Having sex with two (and a half) people in 9 months does not seem promiscuous. Hell, even in a world where the rates of teenage sex have been falling, that doesn't sound high to me. Stacy is 15. As of 2014, only 16% of teens have sex by that age. 33% by 16, 48% by 17, 61% by 18 and 71% by 19. With little difference by gender (Guttmacher). In 1988, 67% of women age 15-44 (nice, wide range there, researchers), 58% of teenage females, who had had intercourse reported having two or more partners (Forrest & Singh). So, Stacy is normal.
Useful comparison, by the way, if you want to get into issues of right or wrong or whatever: in 1982 only 48% of females, 15-19 years old reported use of contraceptives during their first sexual intercourse. 2006-2010, that was up to 78% (Guttmacher).
Ebert's point-of-view is unfortunately representative of too many people. "Why does someone as pretty as Leigh have to have her nudity exploited in shots where the only point is to show her ill-at-ease," he asks. My complaints here will not be numbered. The idea that he has to define her by her prettiness is the initial problem. Then, the presumption that her nudity can only be "exploited" or that it has been exploited simply because he doesn't approve of the realism... It frustrates me that he seems to get the point but because he does not like said point, some disservice has been done for and by Leigh.
But, I was meaning to tell you about Linda... and the film is ending.
And I think I was still in some parenthesis, so...)
Let's backtrack. In the early scene in which Stacy tells Linda that Ron gave her his card, in the film version, the conversation is short and it presents us with a slightly different Linda than the script.
But, I will get to that tomorrow. The credits are rolling and I have a feeling the topic will not drift far all week.