Synopsis: Powerful and passionate, colorful and compelling, Larry Clark’s Kids is 24 frenetic hours in the life of a group of contemporary teenagers who, like all teenagers, believe they are invincible. With breathtaking images from one of the world’s most renowned photographers, Kids is a deeply affecting, no-holds-barred landscape of words and images, depicting with raw honesty and experiences, attitudes and uncertainties of innocence lost. Kids gets under the skin and lingers, long after it is viewed. The kids at the core of the story are just that: teenagers living in the urban melee of modern-day America. But while these kids dwell in the big city, their story could, quite possibly, happen anywhere.
‘Kids’ is one of those films that will likely polarize some audiences. It’s a gritty look at a day in the life of a few teenagers, as they waste their time with nothing more on their minds than sex, cheap thrills and romantic delusions. It’s a story about terribly real consequences of not taking into account one’s personal responsibility. It’s about innocence shattered by ignorance.
Our film begins with the uncomfortable sight of a teenager trying to convince a 13 or 14-year old girl to give up her virginity to him. It’s not only uncomfortable due to the age of the participants, but because they are in bed, turning the scene into a moment of intrusion on what should ultimately be a very intimate moment between two people.
It continues with various scenes of debauchery of all kinds, including some troubling ones that show well under-aged boys doing all sorts of drugs and egging each other on. Personally, I can’t get the sight of what seems like a 10-year old boy smoking a fattie like it’s something he does regularly out of my mind; even if it’s only herbs in real life, it’s hard to fathom that an adult had a child do this – and was permitted to by that kid’s guardian(s).
‘Kids’ isn’t a documentary, but it is filmed much like one. It is frequently difficult to remember that we are watching a work of fiction, with a script and actors creating an illusion of reality. That is part of the genius of ‘Kids’, because, in so doing, it manages to make it impossible for us to detach ourselves from the seriousness of what we see on-screen.
Thus, the blur that will be the next 24 hours in the company of these kids becomes a reality of sorts. Watching them talk about sex candidly and in naïve and vulgar ways, drinking and doing drugs, getting into fights, going to parties and hanging about, we become immersed in what appears to be a truthful urban experience – or at least, one person’s truth.
Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce started their acting careers with ‘Kids’. They are quite good as Telly and Casper, but they make their characters so despicable, easy to loathe and look down on that it immediately puts the audience in opposition. In fact, no doubt due to the documentary-like style of the film, Fitzpatrick received threats after making the movie because people believed it to be real.
Meanwhile, Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny make their characters immature but endearing in each their own way: Dawson is ebullient and a ray of light (as she always is, it seems ), and Sevigny plays Jennie as sweet, shy, but oh-so-lost – you sort of want to take care of her, to give her direction and hope. And yet, there she is having probably the worst day of her young life.
While there isn’t much going on in ‘Kids’, there is a narrative: what we’re doing is following Telly and Casper but, at its core, it’s a race against time as Jennie tries to find Telly (for reasons I will not disclose here). It’s hardly a white-knuckle suspense, but ‘Kids’ is very heavy on the drama, creating a world devoid of Hollywood endings and glamour; in fact, it avoids the pitfalls of preachiness or being cheery, and mostly observes, leaving us with a question: “What happened?“
I know for a fact that the point of the film is lost on some people, but my own personal take on the film is that it is meant to shed light on what sometimes goes on when you remove the parents from the equation, when the kids are left to their own devices. It also exposes an extreme example of what takes place in our society and forces its audience (presumably adults, as this does not appear geared to the teenagers themselves) to ask themselves how it ever got to be this way.
Although ‘Kids’ is not a walk in the park, and won’t appeal to everyone, I think it’s essential viewing – if only to provoke discussion about what we want our society to look like, how we want to shape and nurture our future. There are some questions that we simply don’t want to ask ourselves, but that I think are necessary if we want to lay a good foundation for our collective experience. ‘Kids’, despite all its controversial elements and questionable approach, can contribute in its own way.