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Teenage romance is often portrayed as obsessive in films, with first timers convinced their hearts have but one beat for their true love. Sometimes that obsession becomes troubling, but often is merely heartbreaking. With Teenage Cocktail, obsession is only part of the reason that attracts two young girls together, but it is the only one that matters when it leads them on a path they aren’t prepared to take.
Annie Fenton (Nichole Bloom) is the new kid in school and on her first day, gets into trouble when another girl challenges her in the hallway. Rattled, she sneaks into a side room and discovers Jules (Fabianne Therese) rehearsing a dance. An immediate connection forms and the two become fast friends, spending almost all their free time together, discussing the dead ends of life in their desperately small town.
Eventually, the two explore a romance, and form a bond that begins to worry Anne’s mother Lynn (Michelle Borth), no matter how honest the two seem to be. Jules convinces Annie to get a homemade tattoo, and then join her at parties where they experiment with drugs and group sex. As Annie’s inhibitions fade, she comes to learn that Jules also as a website where she wears a mask and flaunts herself in front of a camera for money. She lures Annie into it, and the idea of fast cash means funds for a way to get away, made all the more pressing when a betrayal exposes them.
Meanwhile, there is Frank (Pat Healy), a lonely family man struggling to support a son who admires him and a wife that doesn’t. When he can, he sneaks his way onto the computer and logs into Jules’ site, unable to stop himself from watching her, paying to see her do anything. When Annie joins her on camera, he’s doubly incited to meet them. When an opportunity presents itself, things take a troubling turn.
Written and directed by John Carchietta, Teenage Cocktail takes its title to heart, mixing in a number of teenage film tropes to some surprising results. At its core is a pure and engaging relationship between two girls who long for personal attention with each other, sparked by the intense mutual feelings they share. That it’s tainted by the immature pratfalls of high school and the very adult consequences of their actions twists this love story into something else entirely. The huge, jarring tonal shift in the third act is a harrowing spin but one justified by a smart script and very good performances.
As obsession goes, Teenage Cocktail walks a delicate line, never fully painting any of these characters as out of control, but rather swept into the confined spaces they have built around each other. The message here is a tailored one, where the idea of fast cash online in the sexualized manner Jules commits too is first presented as easy and safe, but later revealed to be the opposite, though even then, it doesn’t feel quite as condemning of it as it should. That aside, the film does a great job of portraying the devastation these opposing addictions can have.
Bloom and Therese are very well cast and their chemistry is startling authentic, especially Bloom who wonderfully brings Annie to life as a girl raised well yet in need of some identity. As her parents, Borth has some very strong moments as the more authoritative but loving mother, while Joshua Leonard, playing Annie’s father is more loose yet supportive. They each give these people great depth, a rarity in teenage movie parents, with Leonard at one point having the film’s most emotional moment when he discovers something about his daughter that changes everything. His near wordless reaction is wrenching.
There’s plenty in Teenage Cocktail that might be familiar with the current crop of lesbian teenage romance films, but there is also a lot that helps separate this from others. Good direction, great performances, and a well-earned finale make this a mix that works.
Movie description: Teenage Cocktail is a 2017 drama about two teenage girls unhappy with their lot in life who decide to run away, only to have the consequences of that choice change everything.
Director(s): John Carchietta
Actor(s): Nichole Bloom, Fabianne Therese, Pat Healy
Genre: Drama, Thriller