March 24, 2009

Last American Virgin, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Last American Virgin, The

COMEDY:

United States, 1982

U.S. Release Date:

1982-07-30

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

R (Nudity, Sexual Situations, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin, Joe Rubbo, Kimmy Robertson

Director:

Boaz Davidson

Screenplay:

Boaz Davidson

Cinematography:

Adam Greenberg

U.S. Distributor:

Canon

Subtitles:

none


Spoilers - this review discusses the film's ending.

The Last American Virgin is a member of the Teen Sex Comedy Class of 1982, which represented the first wave in a genre that gained popularity during the early and mid-'80s. With a late July U.S. release, The Last American Virgin was situated between Porky's (which came out in mid-March) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which opened two weeks later). The presence of common elements makes it seem like a hybrid straddling the line between Porky's unapologetic T&A humor and Fast Times' more down-to-Earth examination of life in high school. It's an odd mix that causes The Last American Virgin to evidence a split personality when director Boaz Davidson proves unable to balance the film's comedic and dramatic elements.

The Last American Virgin is best known for a downbeat, true-to-life ending that comes like a shock of cold water. Had the film concluded in the "expected" manner, with milquetoast hero Gary (Lawrence Monoson) strolling off into the sunset with dream girl Karen (Diane Franklin), no one would remember the movie. More than a quarter of a century after its release, when people recall The Last American Virgin, they don't think of the locker room scene or the corny first-act sex scene. They remember the image of Gary seeing Karen kissing Rick (Steve Antin), then driving away with tears streaming down his cheeks.

For a while, The Last American Virgin plays like a Porky's wannabe. How much Davidson was influenced by the Canadian import is unclear. By the time Porky's became an unexpected hit, The Last American Virgin was already in the can, and there's no evidence any last minute editing or re-shooting was done to increase the quotient of sex and crudity. However, Porky's was completed approximately six months before The Last American Virgin started shooting, so it's not impossible that some elements (such as the locker room peep sequence) could have provided an "inspiration." On the other hand, similarities between The Last American Virgin and Fast Times are almost certainly coincidental, since the films were in simultaneous production.

At the outset, The Last American Virgin introduces us to protagonist Gary, an average high school Joe who's looking to do what most average high school Joes are looking to do: get laid. It's interesting to note that Davidson chose to establish Gary as a nondescript individual rather than a stereotypical nerd. In subsequent teen sex comedies, the hero would invariably be socially awkward. Gary's best friends are studly Rick and portly David (Joe Rubbo). Their first exploit involves meeting a trio of girls and bringing them back to Gary's house for a little nookie. In the middle of this, Gary's parents come home. There are bare breasts, open-mouthed adults, and a mistaken identity - the kind of silliness one expects from a sex comedy.

The main plot involves Gary's infatuation with new arrival Karen. For Gary, it's love at first sight, but she hardly notices him, even after he comes to her rescue when her bicycle develops a flat tire (a situation he causes by bleeding the air). Instead, Karen wants Rick, and she eventually gets him, leaving Gary out in the cold. The tables turn, however, when Karen ends up pregnant and Rick wants nothing to do with her. In comes White Knight Gary, who arranges for an abortion and provides Karen with a place where she can recuperate in privacy. But, just when it looks like Gary might end up with his dream girl, Rick re-enters the picture and steals her back.

If the abortion subplot sounds familiar, it's almost identical to something similar in Fast Times. It's also The Last American Virgin's strong suit because it reveals layers to Gary and Karen's characters. These scenes are played straight and they are crucial to establishing that Gary's feelings for Karen run more deeply than a simple crush. His kindness toward her makes her betrayal at the end feel like more than a casual slap in the face. She's just as confused as he is when it comes to love, sex, and relationships, but we despise her as the credits roll.

I have never been a fan of sex comedies because, more often than not, I find their brand of "naughty" humor to be unfunny. Such is the case here, where the best thing that can be said about The Last American Virgin's first half, with its sex hijinks (including the opening gambit, a "pizza delivery," and a visit to a hooker) and frequent nudity, is that it offers a few laughs. The second half, with its dramatic underpinning, is more solid. Davidson has stated that the basic plot is derived from an event from his youth - one assumes he is referring to losing a girl and not the penis-measuring locker room contest. This is the second time Davidson filmed this story - the first time was the Israeli feature Eskimo Limon, which was released in 1978.

The aspect of The Last American Virgin that prevents it from becoming more than an offbeat '80s curiosity is the poor quality of acting. It's no coincidence that none of the film's leads proceeded to have high-profile careers. (Compare them to the cast of Fast Times.) Lawrence Monoson has trouble with any kind of strong emotion - during the final scene, it looks like he's forcing the tears. Diane Franklin is gorgeous (and does something leads in sex comedies no longer seem willing to do - take off her clothes) but stiff as a board. Post-Virgin, Steve Antin, like Monoson, has managed to eke out a living making guest appearances on TV shows. Writer/director Davidson, who assembled this group of D-listers, has had a successful Hollywood career, although more as a producer and writer than as a director. The behind-the-camera deficiencies evident in The Last American Virgin's static look were not corrected in his subsequent directorial outings.

The Last American Virgin has its defenders, most of whom are more impressed by the guts displayed by Davidson for the uncompromising ending than by the movie as a whole. I'd have trouble recommending that anyone unfamiliar with the film rush to see it but neither does it need to be avoided at all costs. As '80s teen sex comedies go, it's a peculiar entry because of the ways in which it differs from its cousins. The Last American Virgin tries to inject some honesty and emotional depth into an otherwise silly and raunchy storyline. Its success is mixed but that element at least makes it more interesting to watch than at least 75% of its contemporaries.

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