The young writer-director Colette Burson has a sensational idea for a movie in Coming Soon, her debut feature about three teenage girls in pursuit of self-pleasure. When we meet high school senior Stream Hodsell (Bonnie Root), she’s getting fucked for the very first time. Her partner is unworthy, as one might expect, a gasping boy named Chad (James Roday) who, while something of a catch at New York’s snooty Halton High School, thrashes atop of his well-named partner like a migrating salmon. Baffled by the encounter, and distinctly unmoved, Stream nonetheless announces to her best friends, Jenny (Gaby Hoffmann) and Nell (Tricia Vesey), that the sex was “great,” a nominally minor lie whose absolute immensity has spurred generations of women to suffer and rage, men to turn over and fall asleep, and Shere Hite to emerge as an unlikely guru.
Although the escalating success of Sex and the City and ascension of divas such as Lil’ Kim suggest that female pleasure is reaching a groundswell in pop culture, outside of last year’s American Pie the movies don’t seem much interested in the subject. American Pie was more about boys than girls, as most movies are, but at least it had pie on its dirty mind and turned a girl with a flute into the hottest metaphor-wrangler since Phoebe Cates sliced sausage in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Released in 1982, Amy Heckerling’s comedy of high school manners reigns as one of the better American films about teenagers and one of the best American films about female pleasure. Two of the few new films that have approached its radicalism are Cruel Intentions, in which teenagers play out their social and sexual roles with the calculation of baby de Sades, and Election, in which women and men struggle on an axis of sex and power, and an ambitious teenage girl is revealed to have desires so overwhelming they’re shocking. (Leading her adult lover to marvel that she has “the wettest pussy” he’s ever seen.) Neither film managed to connect with its ostensible demographic, but the same teens who stayed away from these cautionary tales turned American Pie into a hit, presumably because inert baked goods are less frightening — and certainly less demanding — than their writhing, too flesh-and-blood-and-cum equivalents.
The girls in Coming Soon aren’t frightening because they don’t yet know what they’re missing. When Stream nervously asks her friends if they have orgasms when they have sex, both girls casually shrug yes, the sad joke and narrative hook being that neither remotely has a clue. Once the obvious is established, that women are made not born, Burson and her co-writer, Kate Robin, gamely attempt to stretch an hourlong conceit into 90 minutes of social and sexual commentary. But like oversolicitous lovers, the filmmakers are hung up on foreplay, which means there are numerous thudding one-liners, too many scenes devoted to the Ivy League obsessions of the New York elite, gratuitously distracting turns and cameos from the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and Yasmine Bleeth, and not enough old-fashioned teenage raunch.
Happily, there is Mia Farrow, in shimmering aquamarine and a tumble of red corkscrew curls that make her look as if she stepped out of a Klimt painting. There’s also a Jacuzzi scene and a twitchy shrink, a couple of humping bunnies and a young dreamer named Henry Lipschitz, charmingly played by Ryan Reynolds. And even if Burson doesn’t yet have a clue about where to put the camera or how to block a scene, she knows enough about the dreams and desires of painfully young women to keep you watching, even when it all looks like hell. You keep rooting for Burson as much as you do for Stream, Jenny and Nell — it may take her as long as her young girls to get where she wants to go, but you hope it’s every bit as good for her when she gets there.
COMING SOON | Directed by COLETTE BURSON | Written by BURSON and KATE ROBIN | Produced by BANDEIRA ENTERTAINMENT and BEAU FLYNN, STEFAN SIMCHOWITZ and KEVIN DUFFY | Released by Unapix Films/A-Pix Entertainment | At Laemmle’s Sunset 5