16 To Life
by Phil Boatwright

Hallee Hirsh, Mandy Musgrave, Teresa Russell. Teen-aimed romantic comedy. Written & directed by Becky Smith.

FILM SYNOPSIS: The comedy, directed by Becky Smith, stars Hallee Hirsh as Kate, a bookish teen about to turn 16, and truly never been kissed. The small-town teenager is somewhat angst-ridden concerning her own sexual inexperience, which drives this comic quest for love and understanding on her sweet 16 birthday. In her own frustration, Kate plays matchmaker for her friends.

PREVIEW REVIEW: If I were to say Waitress is a much better film, others would argue that 16 to Life will be more relatable to a teen audience. I would then counter with that "relatable" is illusionary, as most "teen" films are acted by those in their twenties and written by those in their thirties. But I concede that it is sometimes fun to watch movie teens struggle with questions of life, even if they are usually portrayed as either dumber than real-life adolescents or far smarter. Here they're just blander.

I was as bored with the sullen small-town fast-food attendants and their 10:00 to 8:00 Diary Queen-like existence. The occasional entry of a kooky customer could have sparked the tedium of their everyday confection prison and vitalized a sluggish script. Sadly, no one of real interest comes to the order window. We are stuck with mopey waitresses doing each other's hair and discussing sexual adventures without the slightest tinge of moral restraint, and the equally low-energy high school-aged cook who seems to show no interest in anything outside the occasional joint and the local tough guy biker named Candy.

Like most writers who attempt to show screen teen rebellion, the young lead is given the kink of reading with interest the political differences found in China. The writer/director then expresses her dissatisfaction with formal religion by presenting a caricature of a Christian, having him witness his faith and hypocrisy within the same speech. As for spiritual matters, the lead reads a t-shirt belonging to the cool guy from the big city with its representation of Jesus and the "humorous" line, "Stop following me." She reassures the wearer that she leans toward agnosticism. There, now with the pesky old questions of faith and the afterlife out of the way, we can move on to the same elements found in countless youth films – sex and the foibles of parental figures.

The Bible instructs us to get outside ourselves. We are to put God first, others second, and ourselves last. It is a sign of faith and a proof of God's love indwelling us when we so order our lives. Ironically, that structure is the best way to find peace and fulfillment. In its quirky way, the film Waitress exemplified that premise. Though she is unhappy, frustrated and stuck, the lead in that film shows compassion for others. In16 to Life, Kate does the same. She cares about others and often puts them first. The main difference – and this opinion is subjective – is that Waitress is a smarter, more involving film. So was The Last Picture Show, it being about bored lives in a rural town. It is infused with wit and incisive writing.

Though not as shallow as many teen comedies, 16 to Life has a touch of Porky's crudity, and lacks the whimsy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Those attempting to develop their spiritual walk may find it superficial and misleading. Those of a more secular nature may also find it depthless. This is a film about teen characters talking about sex, with an older supporting character being harassed by her son, the local Barney Fife deputy. Their life is pretty dull and callow. And so is the film.

Not yet rated, the film contains several obscenities, with the occasional profane use of Christ's name; Christ and Christianity are mocked; sexual matters are graphically discussed.

DVD alternative: Emma. Gwyneth Paltrow stars in this period romance about a self-assured young woman who turns matchmaker for her little English village. Although a most likable Cupid, she is often off the mark. The teen comedy Clueless was inspired from this Jane Austen novel. Not quite in the league with Sense and Sensibility, but all of a sudden, about halfway through, I was hooked. Beautiful to look at, amusing to listen to, and oh, yeah, nothing explodes! PG (I found nothing objectionable - no off-color language, no sexual situations, no violence).