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SXSW 2016: Teenage Cocktail Mixes Youth and Abandon With Somewhat Intoxicating Results

By  · Published on March 13th, 2016

Teenage Cocktail Mixes Youth and Abandon With Somewhat Intoxicating Results

Annie (Nichole Bloom) is starting at a new high school, but she’s only part way through her first day when an altercation earns her time with the principal (A.J. Bowen) and a disappointment-filled ride home with her mom (Michelle Borth). The only bright spot, and the only thing destined to make school worthwhile, is a chance meeting with Jules (Fabianne Therese). The two teens hit it off as friends and maybe something more – Annie likes girls, Jules is flexible on the subject – and it’s not long before the duo are planning to escape their little town and head for New York City.

Running away doesn’t come cheap, and when Annie discovers Jules is moonlighting as a web cam girl the two begin working together to earn even more cash. It’s innocent enough at first – “One time I took a nap?” says Jules. “Made $120.” – but that all changes when they cross paths with a big fan (Pat Healy) fighting demons of his own.

Director/co-writer John Carchietta’s solo feature debut, Teenage Cocktail, is an honest and electric teen romance highlighted by two strong lead performances. It’s burdened though by a brief, unconvincing, late in the film thriller subplot and – the reason why I’m even mentioning a late in the film subplot in the first place – an ill-conceived opening that reveals a later event before jumping back in time.

The movie opens with Annie and Jules in a car being t-boned by a pickup truck driven by Healy’s character. It’s clearly not an accident, and Annie is visibly scared of the man, and while we don’t know the “why” behind the crash we still know too much. In medias res openings like this have been around for a long time, but more often than not they’re used in an attempt to hook viewers rather than assist the narrative itself. The strength of the film is the relationship between Annie and Jules (and the performances of Bloom and Therese), but the filmmakers put their immediate faith in the tease of thrills and action to come instead.

Before that abrupt and rushed finale hits though the film is both sincere and appealing in ways too few movies about young love are. Both leads do great work and exhibit a wonderfully loose and convincing chemistry together as they channel the confusion of youth, but Bloom in particular sells a character who could easily have become something of a teen outcast caricature. She’s awkward and isolated early on, but she moves into this new relationship with urgency and a believable lack of grace that has you immediately in her corner no matter what comes her way.

The supporting cast is equally appealing. Healy’s character takes a brusque turn, but the actor finds some humanity in an underwritten role that could easily be a continuation of his character from Compliance – the man loves playing sleazy. Bowen isn’t onscreen nearly enough, but as is often the case he makes every second count with his calmness and dry delivery. Borth and Joshua Leonard, as Annie’s parents, also stand out as they express affection and frustration with glances and tone familiar to anyone who’s been on the receiving end of similar looks and talks.

Carchietta finds a degree of sexiness in the material, both innocent and slightly dangerous, but he never allows the film to even consider crossing the line into salaciousness. We see some kissing and over the underwear petting, but this isn’t a movie looking for Blue Is the Warmest Color-like attention. It doesn’t need anything more graphic as we’re convinced of the girls’ feelings for each other without needing to see them in action.

Teenage Cocktail could have used more time with its characters and less time devolving into thriller territory, but even with that decision it remains an emotionally engaging peek into the lives of modern day teens.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.