Kids has been hailed as a film that breaks the teen-movie mold and shows a long-hidden side of young life. But, while it may be more graphic and harsh than other movies, it basically covers the same ground: voracious young male sexuality. The only innovative element of the movie—an honest portrayal of female sexual pleasure—is conflicted at best.
Two opposing dynamics of sexuality are illustrated, one by Telly and his virgin conquests, the other by the scene—perhaps one of the best in modern screenwriting—where a group of girls talk raunchily and gleefully about their sexual experiences. Since it addressed the girls' pleasure from their own point of view, that scene gave me hope that the movie might actually affirm female sexuality. Unfortunately, it was the only glimmer of female subjectivity in the place. The rest of the movie was all about boys convincing girls to get fucked. Not that I think there's anything wrong with that per se; what's disturbing is the stereotypical choreography of Telly's moves.
Telly's two seductions are mirror images of each other—the two girls say the same things in the same whiney, needy voice: "Do you care about me?" they ask, needing an emotional hook to make sex all right. That Telly says the same lines to both of them is unimportant; it's just his m.o. But the repetition of the female dialogue is not so simple. While blending the two characters into one, it implies that all girls and women have sex for the same reason: a desire to secure love, not the physical desire that motivates boys like Telly.
This view of female sexuality as based in emotional need is strongly contradicted by Ruby, Susan, Diane, Linda, and Jenny talking about sex. They know that they don't need love to get physical, and they sure as hell recognize the pleasure that's in it for them. They have no trouble at all verbalizing it; their words ring absolutely true:
Ruby: He was, like, sucking my tits. He was fucking fingering me. But that shit was nice and hard. (She pounds a fist into her palm.) I was like ripping his hair out. And we kissed like so hard that our lips were busted. And that shit was so good. It was crazy. He was like ripping my hair. It was like, oh yeah (She moves her hips.), work it.
Susan: You know why I decided to go out with Alex?
Susan (laughing): He has the best fucking fingers I've ever had. (She makes an illustative gesture.) I was like, yes! I'm going out with him.
The exuberance that permeates this scene is a powerful alternative to the passivity and whininess of Telly's conquests. These girls don't need to be assured that they are cared about in order to have sex:
Diane: I like sex and I like fucking.
Ruby: Hell, yeah. I love, I love sex.
Susan: It's like the best thing.
Ruby: No, I don't love sex.
Jenny: Foreplay, foreplay.
Ruby: No, I don't love sex. I like hard-core pound fucking.
Linda: Yep. That's the best way. It's that boom boom boom.
A comparison of this scene with the ones in which Telly woos the young objects of his carnal affections poses the question: which of these two radically different views of female sexuality does the film position itself to support? Can it support both at once? Can the viewer choose for herself? For himself?
The film shows a clear recognition of the difference between male perception of what girls want and the reality: while the girls talk about how gross giving head can be, their discussion is cut with shots of the guys saying how much girls love to suck dick. Obviously, the audience is being clued on to the fact that these guys often don't know what the fuck they're talking about; viewers can then be encouraged to take all male statements and actions with a grain of salt. By making visible the fallacy of uninformed and steretypical thinking, the film undercuts traditional notions of female sexuality. Furthermore, maleness and masculine sexuality—as represented by Telly and Casper—is problematic. The audience is shown graphically that Telly is a lying, disease-spreading jerk, and Casper's a drunken rapist.
This may interfere with both audience identification and filmic alignment, but it remains clear that the movie comes from a male viewpoint. Telly's voice literally opens and closes the film; we see the world through his eyes throughout. We may get a few glimpses of life from Jenny's point of view, but there's no doubt about it—Kids is Telly's story. So where does that leave us? While it's great to see and hear girls speaking frankly and joyously about their own physical experiences of sex—that's all too rare in mainstream media—that one great scene is sandwiched between images of girls whining about being cared for and guys treating them like shit. The parallel seductions serve to show the audience that male sexuality is predatory and female sexuality is passive and victim-based. Female viewers can listen to Ruby, Susan, Linda, Jenny, and Diane, but they'll still leave the theater with the other girls' whiney plea for emotion ringing in their ears. —lj.