Ken Park

Ken Park Synopsis: Filmmaker Larry Clark reunites with Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine, with some additional directorial assistance from cinematographer Ed Lachman, for this look at a group of troubled teens and their guardians living in Southern California.

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Ken Park 7.5

eyelights: the naturalistic performances.
eyesores: the gratuitousness of the sexuality.

“You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.”

‘Ken Park’ is by the director of ‘Kids‘. It follows the lives of four teenagers over the course of a few days, as they struggle with their parents, their disenchantment with life and, in particular, their sexual feelings. It’s a graphic film that has not been released in North America (it was shown once: the director claims that music rights is the reason behind its distribution troubles).

The picture is bookended by the story of Ken Park, a teenager who inexplicably committed suicide at a skate park one day. It then proceeds to introduce Shawn, the narrator of that opening Ken Park segment, as well as three other teenagers who used to be friends with Ken, Claude, Peaches and Tate, in turn, establishing their general demeanour and the state of their home life.

All of them live in challenging situations: Shawn’s mom is a deadbeat who sets her two boys against each other on a whim, Claude is despised by his father, who admits to being ashamed of him and picks on him, Peaches lives with a widower who is so deep into religion that everything is coloured by it, and Tate lives with his simpleton grandparents and his three-legged dog, lashing at them uncontrollably.

Each set of dynamics will only get more complicated as the film unfolds – and it can be pretty shocking. Shawn’s relationship with his mom is never touched upon again, but he has another set of problems to deal with, given that he’s cheating on his girlfriend with a married woman. That is also develops in unexpected ways, although the shock value is reduced; he is after all, our narrator, the “relatable” one.

What makes ‘Ken Park’ stand out from many such films is how explicit it is, bordering on pornography. Clearly, there are more provocative motion pictures out there (ex: ‘Ai no Korida‘), but we are talking about teen sex here, and it will make some people uncomfortable – even though we have all been teenagers and this is merely a reflection of a potent time in our lives.

At least… for some, if not all, of us.

I mean, who hasn’t masturbated during their teen years? I know I have. And it’s pretty likely that many of us have gone down on someone at some point during our teen years, too. As for intercourse, there’s a good chance of that too. But I suppose it’s troubling to have to see teenagers have what looks like real sex, as opposed to the cartoony stuff one finds in American comedies.

Fact is that teenagers have their secret sex life, which they don’t discuss with their parents, or with adults in general – if anyone at all (who admits to self-love, even though it’s assumed that everyone does it?). If you didn’t have privacy at home, you would seek it elsewhere – in a parked car, or at someone else’s place. So it wasn’t at all shocking to me to see this in ‘Ken Park’.

But it would be for some – especially since it frequently looks pretty realistic (I frequently wondered what was real, and what was editing).

It still amazes me the amount of secrecy and shame that revolves around sex to this day. We are almost all sexual to various degrees (I assume that some of us are asexual), so why is it that we can’t just acknowledge our sexuality as part of our lives, as just one of the many things that define us? Why is there embarrassment attached to it? Why do we change subject or avoid it altogether?

I remember being astounded by the attitude of a friend’s mom, who would let her daughter and her boyfriend have sex at home. I don’t remember the rationale behind it (“Better at home then in some strange place”, as they say?), but I was impressed that she would stock condoms so that her daughter could have safe(r) sex. My own mom would let girls stay over and not ask any questions.

And yet they both had a freak out when that same friend and I were found on a pull-out couch with a girl, even though we were all clothed – my friend’s mom immediately kicked us out of the house. I wondered what the fuss was about. Why could her daughter do anything she wanted with her bf, but the three of us were an appalling sight. Thank goodness she was away that night!

And so it is that, when three of the teenagers in ‘Ken Park’ have an extended, and pretty graphic, sex sequence, I wasn’t really all that shocked: I could relate to some degree. My only problems with that scene are that: 1) they didn’t seem to be practicing safe(r) sex, and 2) that the scene was superfluous; it felt tacked on at the tail end, with no real reason for it. What was the point?

I really enjoyed the scene in which Shawn goes down on the hot housewife (H-O-T, despite what looks like fake breasts. Ick). It was awkward, tender, real, not showy. It reminded me of those secret intimate moments you have with a partner, especially in those early days, when you’re sneaking about so that your parents don’t find out. It was believable, especially the pillow talk afterwards.

That’s the thing with ‘Ken Park’: for all its shock value, the script feels realistic most of the time (the final confrontations that Corey, Peaches and Tate have with their guardians are a bit much, mind you). The dialogues were believable and were delivered naturally by excellent actors, many of whom were novices at the time; I could imagine these situations and exchanges quite easily.

And that’s why I find myself a fan of ‘Ken Park’. It has its weaknesses, and does seem self-consciously provocative, but there’s very little to criticize on a technical level: it’s quality filmmaking all-around. The only thing that one could truly reproach it is for is its graphic sexuality. But that’s in the eye of the beholder, and I really would like to understand what makes it objectionable.

Is it the age of the characters/performers? Is it a feeling of intrusion on these people’s intimacy? Or does it hit too close to home?

Story: 7.5
Acting: 7.5
Production: 7.5

Nudity: 3.5
Sexiness: 3.0
Explicitness: 7.5

Date of viewing: June 6, 2014

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