See it or be it!
Bill Simmons of ESPN's Page 2 recently did one of those lists. You know those lists. They're everywhere: Top 10 Horror Movies, Top 100 Movie Villains, 25 Best Supporting Actor in a Buddy Film Who Dies at the End…you name it, the net probably has it. Simmons list is "THE 12 MOST UNDERRATED MOVIES OF ALL TIME." That's right, ALL TIME. The pinnacle of this ambitious list is none other than The Last American Virgin.
Facts of the Case
Gary (Lawrence Monoson), Rick (Steve Antin), and David (Joe Rubbo) are three friends with one goal: getting laid. This quest consumes most of their time and all of their resources. Rick is the shallow stud, with smooth moves and an abhorrent lack of remorse. David is the overweight party meister, self-conscious but willing to throw down. Gary, the central character, is neither cool nor uncool, neither confident nor timid, neither good looking nor ugly. He is a simple guy hindered by incorrigible sweetness and lack of initiative.
The trio's misadventures take on a serious undercurrent when Gary falls for the hot new girl in school. Gary's circuitous attempts to woo Karen (Diane Franklin) prove inferior to Rick's direct approach. Gary has to suffer while Rick and Karen fool around next to him. Gary's feelings for Karen cast Rick's past exploits in a harsh light. Gary has to deal with the conflict.
Movies will never again be made in the mold of The Last American Virgin. Social consciousness has altered irreparably with the advent of AIDS, political correctness, and plastic surgery. The times depicted in The Last American Virgin are quite simply gone. As such, it has shock value today because of its crass naïveté. Teen movies of today could not pull off scenes where three teenagers gang bang a hooker without protection.
The Last American Virgin is a prototypical 1980s movie. Name an '80s movie cliché, it is probably here. The nerdy guy with taped glasses, perennially tormented by the crowd…overweight party guy with cool shades and a nothing-to-lose attitude…a carefully styled party with teased hair, crowded dance floor, and copious neon. The quirky boat of a car that shuffles the merry lads about. The too-cool guy with slick hair and raised collar.
And the music. Oh, the sweet '80s music. This soundtrack rocks hard with a string of '80s gold. If you have fun discussing one-hit wonders with your friends, this soundtrack will take on additional significance. You get to experience the talents of one-hit wonder posterboys Devo, Tommy Tutone, and Human League. Adding star power to the soundtrack is U2, Cars, The Police, Journey, and REO Speedwagon (as well as Chief Justice Mike Jackson's perennial favorite, Oingo Boingo, who unfortunately has to be classified a no-hit wonder). What is so great is that many of these songs became hits, but many of them did not, so you get an authentic '80s experience. The songs are particularly well-suited to the action, both emotionally and comedically. After watching this movie, KC and the Sunshine Band's immortal refrain will never be the same: "That's the way (UH Huh, Uh HUH) I LIKE it (UH Huh, Uh HUH)."
The Last American Virgin is a genre-defining comedy with great music and a grandfathered-in lack of political correctness. So, is it the most underrated movie OF ALL TIME? While definitely underrated, I'd have to say no.
There are many outrageous humorous moments, such as when Gary cannot figure out how to remove a girl's bra and reaches for the scissors. Funny, yes, but the scene suffers from an obviously contrived set up. For every hysterical "explain to the pharmacist that you have crabs" scene, there is a completely bogus "friend mistakenly falls into bed with Gary's mom" clunker. The humor just isn't easy or fluid; it reaches and suffers.
Just as well, because The Last American Virgin soon morphs into a harshly realistic drama. Laughter dies on your lips as the increasingly heart wrenching plot takes over. This transformation is responsible for The Last American Virgin's personna non grata status. It fails as a pure comedy, and fails as a pure drama, thus alienating purist fans in both categories. However, it is precisely because of the raucous opening that The Last American Virgin's tragic finale is so powerful. I cannot say more without ruining the experience.
The Last American Virgin is served by moments of sublime acting. The cast consists of mostly unknowns, but they deliver sophisticated emotional nuances when needed. The highlight of the cast is Diane Franklin, one of the Princesses in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and the exchange student in Better Off Dead. Why she did not become an '80s super-diva is beyond me. Diane has it all: spectacular looks, charisma, and a beguiling voice. But the finest moments in this movie belong to Lawrence Monoson. When he lowers his defenses and expresses his emotions, the result is gut-wretchingly believable.
The DVD transfer is remarkable given the relatively obscure status of the film. The neon '80s palette is faithfully rendered, set off against strong blacks. Detail is amazingly sharp, edge enhancement kept in check. I expected a much poorer transfer, and was surprised at the quality.
The same cannot be said for the extras. This is where The Last American Virgin's obscurity hurts. You get a trailer and nothing more. Of course, fans of the film might consider its DVD release extra enough. Try finding it on TV or video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Last American Virgin is frequently (and negatively) contrasted with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The comparison is inevitable, but unfair. The two films were released at about the same time, so one could not have borrowed from the other. Time has brought Fast Times acclaim and Last Virgin obscurity. Fast Times is easier to classify and process, and has a nude scene with Phoebe Cates that is permanently etched into the brain of every guy who has seen it. The Last American Virgin also has such a scene, but in this case it is David's derriere bouncing in time to KC and the Sunshine Band. However, fans of Diane Franklin will have plenty to celebrate.
Some might be misled by the film's title. There is no dramatic climax where the "last virgin" loses sexual innocence. You wouldn't expect one either if it weren't for the provocative title. I think the title refers to emotional virginity, which is lost with unexpected suddenness in the film.
The Last American Virgin is eerily similar to the Israeli film Lemon Popsicle. This is absolutely intentional. Director Boaz Davidson is Israeli, and The Last American Virgin was intended as the first in a series of Lemon Popsicle remakes for American audiences.
Once you've seen The Last American Virgin, look again at the DVD cover: these three fellas are lounging in the pool for a very specific purpose.
The Last American Virgin delivers humor, nudity, and raunchiness with an unabashed honesty that American Pie can only dream about. This humor is a diversion from a frontal assault of teenage pain. This sneak attack left most viewers winded. But those who recover consider The Last American Virgin one of the most honest and realistic teen films ever made.
The court commends MGM for bringing this controversial film back into the public eye. It seems the jury is still out on this film as an entire generation is yet to reach a verdict.
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