MPI // 2013 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 7th, 2013
How do you grow up when your parents haven't?
In October 2013, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay joked in an interview that he had his fifteen-year-old daughter's room bugged with a secret camera to ensure that she and her boyfriend were in fact studying. It wasn't clear from the context if he was joking or not. Why, for instance, would he allow her to study with her boyfriend in her room with the door closed rather than install a camera? Still, his comments unleashed a proverbial firestorm of comments on the internet. Half of them were calling him a total creep for spying on his daughter, and the other half were some version of "too right." What's clear from the kerfuffle is that teenage sexuality -- especially for teen girls -- is still a topic of significant anxiety. As Cool As I Am tries to tackle some of that anxiety, offering us a young woman who's experimenting sexually while her mixed-up parents aren't much guide. Though its heart is in the right place, As Cool As I Am is a mess of a picture.
Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger, Once Upon a Time) is sixteen years old, and starting to experiment sexually with her best friend Kenny (Thomas Mann, Project X). Her parents are none-too-pleased when they find out, since mom (Clair Danes, My So-Called Life) and dad (James Marsden, 27 Dresses) were teenager parents themselves and are struggling with their own issues.
I totally understand the impulse behind As Cool As I Am -- teenagers having sex is pretty scary. Their brains aren't fully formed, they have no way to effectively address the myriad of consequences that come from sexual intercourse, including interpersonal issues, disease, and pregnancy. When something is that scary it's understandable to want to avoid it, cautioning teens to not have sex. The problem, of course, is that never works and the result is ignorant teens more likely to get into trouble.
The problem with As Cool As I Am is that it wants to completely stack the deck in favor of teens not having sex. As I said, that's a laudable impulse, but As Cool As I Am does let teen pregnancy and sexual awakening turn into an organic drama. Instead, Lucy has sex and bad things happen. No, the bad things aren't "Oh my God, I've got AIDS and a baby on the way," but conveniently everything else in her life goes wrong once she loses her virginity. Her best friend goes away, her parents become increasingly estranged, and the rest of her life falls apart. Maybe, maybe it would have worked over a season of a television show, slowly watching Lucy's life crumble under the strain of modern relationships and the difficulties of sex. As it is, the film plays like a really bad afterschool special with above-average actors.
It's not all bad, of course. I have no idea what drew such a strong cast to such a lackluster film, but everyone here is on their best behavior. Sarah Bolger is a bit old for the role (unsurprisingly), but she's game to tackle the tomboyish innocence of Lucy. Danes and Marsden are perfect as Lucy's messed-up parents as well. It seems like only yesterday that Danes would have been playing the role of Lucy, and she brings that "growing up on television" charm to her role as the worried mom. Marsden turns on the smarm as her father, and it's easy to see why there could be tension in any of his relationships. and it's easy to see why there could be tension in any of his relationships.
The As Cool As I Am (Blu-ray) isn't bad. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is bright and clean. Detail is generally pretty strong, with color saturation that looks accurate. Black levels are fine, and no serious compression artifacts show up to ruin things. The DTS-HD 5.1 master audio is similarly fine. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and a fine balanced is maintained throughout with the music. The surrounds don't get a whole lot of action, but that's appropriate for a dialogue-driven drama.
Extras start with a behind-the-scenes featurette that feels pretty standard, and end with the film's theatrical trailer.
Fans of the actors will find something to appreciate in this overwrought drama. Though we need serious films that treat teen difficulties seriously, we don't need films that try this hard to stack the deck in favor of a particular outcome. It's okay to be against teens having sex without taking it to the extreme that As Cool As I Am does. Most viewers are better off watching a more interesting coming-of-age drama (like The Perks of Being a Wallflower), but those who choose this one can at least take comfort in a strong Blu-ray presentation.
Not nearly as cool as it gets, but the film is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R