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Armond White

The Age of Effing Consent

The Age of Effing Consent

Marfa Girl

Latino boys and Aussie trans teens face sexual confusion in Marfa Girl and 52 Tuesdays

Sexual confusion is rampant in two new features: The Australian52 Tuesdays about a girl, 16-year-old Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), responding to her mother Jane's (Del Herbert-Jane) transition into Jim and the American film Marfa Girl about the sexual awakening of teenage boys in a Texas border town.

Keeping pace with our era's ongoing moral revolution, these films mix social change with sexual awareness. Director Sophie Hyde does this literally when she interweaves brief images of news events in between Billie and Jim's year of domestic conflicts. Mother-daughter empathy is apparent when they both get butch haircuts. Jim's hormone trials parallel Billie's experimentation with a teen couple she idolizes, recording their make-out sessions on her cell phone.

Both performances are affecting -- especially Herbert-Jane whose transformed cuteness resembles the Aussie chef Curtis Stone; Jim stays calm and authoritative, despite various traumas, for Billie's sake. Cobham-Hervey's Billie has that 16-going-on-40 look like Aussie singer Lorde but still sulks childishly. Yet her confusion (sexual curiosity and emotional ambivalence) is less clear than the allegorical sexual urges so memorably embodied in The Fury by Amy Irving (whom Cobham-Hervey also resembles). Sometimes metaphor works best.

Too much intercutting, rather than letting scenes play to conclusion, skimps on the feel of human experience and emotional growth. 52 Tuesdays is over-conceptualized (recalling the recent Anne Hathaway hetero romance One Day). Frustratingly, Hyde seems more uncertain about storytelling than Billie is about love and sexual identity.

52 Tuesdays screens on Fandor. Watch the trailer here.

Marfa Girl

A different kind of confusion impairs Marfa Girl, the latest voyeuristic foray by artistic lecher Larry Clark. For Clark, sex is the measure of all things: social relations, race relations, power relations. He's genuinely inquisitive and perceptive, often even while being pervy.

Clark (infamous for the '90s filmKids) has a good photographer's eye, which makes him the Robert Flaherty of jailbait. He takes a semi-documentary approach to specific area lifestyles, focusing on the sexuality of its youth in particular -- nubile boys and girls eager to start their sexual lives as a primitive recognition of their spiritual and social purpose. Flaherty was a polite and circumspect ethnographer; Clark has no boundaries.

At first, it's fascinating to see Clark observe the ethnic tensions of Texas border culture and the power shifts among kids, parents, Latinos, whites, civilians, and cops. He emphasizes their sexual lives like a soft-coreThe Last Picture Show: Everyone wants to spank curly-lipped, biracial Adam (Adam Mediano), his mother is stalked by creepy white cop Tom (Jeremy St. James) whose Latino partners are scoped by the Marfa girl (Drake Burnette), an art student in-residence at a nearby school who has a fetish for brown-skin men. She excitedly alerts Adam that he's nearly at "the age of fucking consent!"

Without much plot, Clark depicts contemporary immigration tensions through sexual stress. Each character articulates some frustration; these seemingly spontaneous and moving monologues about pets, high school, death and dating are plain, descriptive and feel real. But often, they also sounds like leering come-ons. And soon, Clark gets down to the getting-down --as when local musician Rodrigo Lloreda meets the Marfa girl then plays guitar, snorts coke, and humps like a porn star.

Clark seems torn between sympathizing with social frustration and ogling the males' chest, buttocks, and more. Look how Officer Tom's violence-stimulated, almost 3D, erection provokes a monologue explaining his abused childhood to Marfa girl. She interrupts him with an Altman-worthy digression: "That's why I only fuck Latinos, they know what pleasure feels like. They know how to make love. They feel things. They're not missing that sheath. In nature, all animals have sheaths. They can come over and over again. They don't have to jackhammer a girl all night."

Even this moment between two polarized crazies seems set-up for porn. Clark won't waste the after-image of Officer Tom's boner and despite the female protagonist, it's male energy and physicality that Clark highlights (he cruelly drops a female rape victim from the plot). These stroke-book after-images get in the way of sensitive perception and those amazing real-life monologues. Clark cock-blocks his own social and sexual insight. He's made the hottest movie about the immigration crisis that President Obama isn't likely to approve.

Marfa Girl is in select cinemas March 27. Watch the trailer below:

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Armond White