Puberty Blues (1981)

BRUCE BERESFORD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

, 1981. . Screenplay by , based on the novel by , . Cinematography by . Produced by Margaret Kelly, . Music by , . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

Bruce Beresford adapts one of Australia’s most popular youth-oriented novels (one which has reportedly been served up as sex education in the country’s schools at some point in time), raising the ages of its characters from 14 to 16 to meet with the minimum age of consent. Newcomers and are excellent as Debbie and Sue, two Melbourne teenagers who desperately want to raise their profile in their high school’s microcosmic social order and get in with the cool girls (and possibly the date the surfer boys who buzz around them). The rules at this age are set in stone and go completely unquestioned, boys surf and girls get them snacks while never actually eating in front of them, and having a boyfriend is a highly prized status symbol.  Getting in with the cool kids means being liked and admired, while another girl designated as an “ugly” outsider has to put up with being used and abused as part of the high wire act of striving for popularity.  Debbie is anxious to lose her virginity and has a disastrous first encounter with one boy before enjoying a sweet relationship with another that ends badly thanks to his drug addiction, and as the girls continue partying too late and definitely too hard, they start to question the meaning of fitting in considering how little they get for the amount of effort they put into it. Beresford assembles an appealing cast and shows them looking shiny and bright under the hot Australian sun, contrasting their youthful beauty with the cruelty of how they deal with their insecurities. There’s explicit sex, both awkward fumblings and assault, hilarious hijinks and devastating outcomes; all of it is presented with the right level of critical sympathy thanks to the talent of the performers and the wisdom the director has for presenting his exploitation of them in an ironic tone.

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