Teenage bodies are bared but fresh insight concealed in writer-director Eva Husson’s first feature, a dopey examination of Instagram-abetted adolescent abandon.
Inspired by a news item that Husson came across in 1999 about a group of orgy-loving high schoolers in the United States, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), despite the omnipresence of iPads and hashtags, never quite shakes the impression that its sociological peeping is out of date and out of proportion. The bombast of Husson’s kids-today project is heralded not only by its overwrought title — a direct translation of the original French Bang Gang (une histoire d’amour moderne) — but by its epigraph, a quote from Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
This particular consciousness-raising is set among middle-class homes and a lycée in Biarritz, the radiant splendor of the Basque Country seaside town at odds with the shadowy world of the movie’s central coterie of 16- and 17-year-olds, several of whom are played by first-time performers. Coining the term for the eponymous sex party is George (Marilyn Lima), an alarmingly pint-size, bobble-headed maenad whose participation in the debauchery is largely spurred by the earlier treatment she received from cad Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), the host of the saturnalias.
In a thin plot contrivance, George is shunned and shamed after her writhing is posted on YouTube, the first of several incidents in the final act of Bang Gang that calls attention to the inconsistency in Husson’s point of view. The director seems to aspire to neutrality — duly fulfilling the critical requirement that films about scandalous behavior “withhold judgment” — but only until the position no longer suits her incoherent purposes.
Since its initial screenings on the festival circuit last year, Bang Gang has invariably been compared to Larry Clark’s Kids (1995). Yet the profound unease stirred by Clark’s graphic depictions of adolescent lust and predatory smooth talkers is completely absent in Husson’s movie, which leaves an imprint as weightless as the synth-pop that punctuates it. Though the film’s impact may be feathery, the treatment is often heavy-handed: Radio and TV announcements repeatedly remark on catastrophic train derailments in France, the accounts of those SNCF misfortunes heard during the lulls when George and her copines aren’t pulling a train. As news of the sex sprees reaches the revelers’ parents, one dad castigates his son for how “profoundly mediocre” he finds the extracurricular activity — disappointment that equally applies to Husson’s film.