Kids (1995)
Directed by Larry Clark

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Over the course of a day, Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a teenaged boy whose greatest passion in life is seducing virgins, wanders through the streets of New York City with his friend Casper (Justin Pierce) stealing, buying drugs, and talking with his friends. Meanwhile, Jennie (Chloë Sevigny), a teenaged girl, learns she has contracted HIV from Telly, who seduced her a year before, and tries to find him so that she can tell him he has the virus.

Larry Clark's Kids is an engaging, disturbing film. Although unremittingly realistic, a quality that tends to detract from a work's capacity to elicit a deep emotional reaction from the viewer, the director has filled the movie with such a number of interesting details that it succeeds despite its limitations. Its very realism, which has an almost documentary-like quality, somehow enthralls the viewer and allows him to enter into the young protagonists' restricted lives.


Telly, in particular, is fascinating. He is a surprisingly well realized and utterly repulsive creature. Even though the character is completely vacuous and his various ruminations have all the depth of a puddle, there is such a truth to the director's portrayal of him that the viewer is easily drawn into his brutish world and made to feel its wretched limitations. In fact, the emptiness of Telly's existence is consistently oppressive, as is his selfish exploitation of those with whom he comes into contact. What is more, his friends are no better than he is. They savagely beat a man in a city park, crudely attempt to seduce various teenaged girls, and drink until they pass out. Seeing how these persons are wasting their lives and harming others, the moviegoer is left feeling deeply disturbed. All these persons, consequently, greatly contribute to the sense of terrible tragedy the movie evokes.


Unfortunately, there are times when Kids is hackneyed and manipulative. For example, early in the film we learn that Jennie has only had sexual intercourse with Telly and yet, when she accompanies her promiscuous friend Ruby (Rosario Dawson) to a clinic so that the latter can be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, it is Jennie who learns she has HIV, while her friend is relieved to hear she has not contracted any disease. The irony is very heavy-handed. This is not, however, the film's only overdone element. Clark clumsily draws the viewer's attention to the consequences of the behaviors he depicts throughout his movie. While he does allow us to sympathize with his characters and feel saddened by their miserable fates, much of the emotional reaction he could have produced is wasted by his insistence upon bashing us over the head with his message.


Because of its frequent clumsiness and its tendency to preach, Kids is hardly a great movie, but it is, nevertheless, both well made and affecting.

Review by Keith Allen

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