Sundance Film Review: Old Enough (dir by Marisa Silver)

(As I sit here writing this, the Sundance Film Festival is currently in full swing in Utah.  Starting last Thursday with Blood Simple, I have been reviewing films that originally made a splash at Sundance.)

As I mentioned in my review of Circle of Power, the Sundance Film Festival was not always the Sundance Film Festival.  For the first few years of its existence, it was known as the US Film Festival.  It wasn’t until 1984 that the US Film Festival became the Sundance Film Festival.  (And let’s be honest — as far as names go, Sundance is a huge improvement over its generic predecessor.)  That year, the inaugural Sundance Grand Jury Prize was awarded to a coming-of-age story called Old Enough.

Old Enough is a New York movie, one that follows Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) and Karen (Rainbow Harvest) over one eventful summer.  Lonnie is 12 years old.  She lives in a nice apartment and she attends an exclusive private school.  She has a close relationship with her mother (Susan Kingsley) while her father is a stuffy snob.  From the minute that Lonnie first sees Karen, she wants to be her best friend.  Karen is a year or two older and her family is definitely not rich.  Karen is uninhibited and, on the outside at least, totally confident.  Lonnie is envious of Karen’s freedom.  Karen is envious of Lonnie’s stability.  From that, an unlikely friendship is born.

At first, the film focuses on how much Lonnie looks up to Karen.  Karen wears makeup so Lonnie starts to wear makeup.  Karen is Catholic so Lonnie decides to be Catholic as well.  Karen shoplifts so Lonnie gives it a try.  Karen tries to dress like Lonnie and she even tries to navigate the streets of New York with the same confidence.  It’s only later in the film, when Lonnie attempts to introduce Karen to her friends from school, that it becomes clear that Karen is as out of place in Lonnie’s world as Lonnie is in Karen’s.

The film is at its best when it concentrates on the friendship between Karen and Lonnie.  There’s a wonderful scene where Karen and Lonnie go up to the roof of Karen’s apartment building and take in the beautiful view of New York City at night.  It’s a scene that perfectly captures what it’s like to be young and to know that there’s an amazing world out there, waiting for you to discover it.  And then there’s an extended shoplifting scene, one that I absolutely loved even if it did bring back enough memories to make me cringe just a bit.

Old Enough struggles during it second half, when the focus shifts from Karen and Lonnie’s friendship to Lonnie’s crush on Karen’s older brother, Johnny (Neil Barry).  Johnny, however, is obsessed with the new neighbor (Roxanne Hart), who may be having an affair with Karen’s father (Danny Aiello).  Those scenes feel a bit forced, as if Robert McKee suddenly popped up and said, “Time for Act III!”

No, the heart of the film is in Karen and Lonnie’s friendship.  Both Sarah Boyd and Rainbow Harvest gave very naturalistic and believable performances as the two unlikely friends.  By the end of the movie, you’re happy they got to spend a summer together even though you know they probably won’t still be friends in another five years.  It’s a sweet movie, one that provides a very realistic portrait of growing up.

If you’ve never heard of Old Enough, you’re not alone.  Until I started doing research for these reviews, I had never heard of it, either.  Some times good movies are forgotten.  That’s why it’s important to always keep looking.

As of this writing, Old Enough can be viewed on YouTube.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power

A Movie A Day #272: Mirror Mirror (1990, directed by Marina Sargenti)

Following the death of her husband, Susan Gordon (Karen Black) relocates to Los Angeles with her teenage daughter, Megan (Rainbow Harvest).  An angry goth girl who always wears black and bears a superficial resemblance to Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, Megan struggles to fit in at her new school and quickly attracts the unwanted attention of the school’s main mean girl, Charlene Kane (Charlie Spradling).  Fortunately, Megan has an old and haunted mirror in her room that can not only bring her rotting father back to life but which Megan can also use to kill all of her tormentors.

Of the many rip-offs of Carrie, Mirror Mirror is one of the best and I am surprised that it is not better known.  The plot, with a teenage girl using paranormal powers to get revenge on all of the bullies at her school, may be familiar but Mirror Mirror is better executed than most of the other films of its ilk.  The script is full of snappy dialogue and, despite the low budget, the special effects are effectively grisly.  There’s a scene that does for garbage disposals what Jaws did for the water.  One thing that sets Mirror Mirror apart from similar films is that Megan is sometimes not a very sympathetic character.  Unlike Carrie, who was scared of her powers and only used them once she was pushed over the edge, Megan is initially very enthusiastic about using the mirror to get revenge for every slight, real and perceived.

The cast also does a good job, with Karen Black giving one of her least restrained performances.  Keep an eye out for Yvonne DeCarlo playing a realtor and William Sanderson as Susan’s strange new boyfriend.  The best performance comes from Rainbow Harvest, a talented actress who appeared in a handful of movies in the 80s and 90s and then appears to have vanished from the face of the Earth.  Believe it or not, Rainbow Harvest was her real name.