Most commonly associated by teens of the 1990s as the genre where a boy screwed a pie, it’s often difficult remembering how prevalent the sex comedy was throughout the 1980s. The era of Reaganomics and a return to family values saw the nation asking “What are your children doing?” Well, they were having sex…at least they were on film. Director Boaz Davidson’s The Last American Virgin, itself a remake of Davidson’s Israeli teen drama Lemon Popsicle from 1978, is one of the unsung films of the era. Debuting on Blu-ray from Olive Films, The Last American Virgin boasts the distinction of containing facets borrowed and invented from other films throughout the decade to create the antithesis of the sex comedy/coming of age tale where….unlike fairy tales…not everyone gets happily ever after, no matter how much it’s deserved. In honor of this week’s release of We Are Your Friends, let’s get down with a film that tells you, sometimes your friends suck!
Sweet, virginal pizza boy Gary (Lawrence Monoson) is in love with beautiful transfer student Karen (Diane Franklin). He’s all set to ask her out when he discovers his best friend Rick (Steve Antin), the Lothario of Gary’s friends, is dating her and intends to take her virginity. As Gary tries and fails at finding sexual conquests for himself, he hopes to find a way for Karen to notice him.
The Last American Virgin got lost the ’80s teen sex comedy stream, coming out between two landmark films in the genre; four months after Porky’s, the grandfather of the ’80s teen sex comedy, and two weeks before Fast Times at Ridgemont High (in fact Last American Virgin started production one day before Fast Times). LAV is comfortably nestled between those two, not just with release dates but in terms of tone; it’s not as raunchy as Porky’s, yet not as adult as Fast Times. The latter film boasts the most similarities with LAV, particularly its third-act pregnancy and abortion plotline. Despite Fast Times being about Stacy’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sexual awakening, her eventual need for an abortion is done off-camera, in contrast to LAV’s frightening moments leading up to the actual procedure (insultingly underscored by Diane Franklin in the buff). In the end, both movies are about teens learning the consequences of sex (both large and small), and, ultimately, how fleeting the first sexual experience is.
Trying to satisfy everyone, Last American Virgin has something to say about love and relationships, but suffers fatigue trying to turn on horny teens who plunked down their hard-earned allowance to see a little T&A. While not nearly as gratuitous as something like Porky’s, the film fails when it’s most desperate to emulate that style of film, leading to moments that feel like filler….or bad foreplay. Gary, Rick, and David’s (Joe Rubbo) encounter with a woman looking for more than a slice of pizza – a tale fleshed out to full-length in the Patrick Dempsey comedy, Loverboy – or their trip to a prostitute, culminating in a case of crabs, plays like disingenuous fantasies a teenage boy would have, because they are. The story works best when searching for honesty in the relationships, which is why the love triangle between Gary, Rick, and Karen saves the narrative overall.
Gary seals the deal by the middle of the movie, disproving himself as the title’s “last American virgin,” but he feels so bad about it he becomes physically ill, and that case of crabs leaves a lasting impression. Outside of the aftereffects, Gary’s vomiting after intercourse isn’t played for laughs at all. It’s shown off-camera, leaving Gary utterly disgusted with himself and his actions. The pressure to have sex without feelings as his friends do isn’t for him, and in this moment of degradation you empathize. Where Fast Times did wonders at showing a female’s first sexual encounter, LAV does so with the young man and not in a way where it turns into a moment of triumph. Gary doesn’t high-five his friends and come out the other side a man. Gary’s friends hew closer to Porky’s-esque caricatures – the loveable fat friend and the douche/smooth talker – and while Antin and Rubbo do the job they’re required to do, it is Monoson’s devastated face that lingers.
Where pandering to convention never happens is in the love triangle with Karen. Yes, Karen ends up pregnant by Rick, who immediately dumps her, so Gary, nice guy that he is, helps her have an abortion. He thinks this will cement their relationship, along with his declaration of love to her, but when he shows up in the final minutes of the film he discovers Karen has gotten back with Rick! And the movie ends! The fact that Gary doesn’t end up with the girl defined the film as worthwhile, if only for its escape from convention.
The ending certainly plays into the worst stereotypes involving nice guys finishing last, and women reconciling with a good-looking jerk, but they get away with because of the kids’ ages. Think of Marguerite Moreau’s character, Katie, from Wet Hot American Summer and her response for turning down nice guy Coop (Michael Showalter) for douchey Andy (Paul Rudd): “I like you more than I like Andy, Coop, but I’m 16. And maybe it’ll be a different story when I’m ready to get married, but right now, I am entirely about sex. I just wanna get laid.” Karen is dumber than a box of rocks for the most part but she’s woefully naive. (I mean, any woman willing to let a man rocking a pink tank top take her virginity isn’t playing with a full deck in my opinion.)
Karen may be sweet and cute, but she’s immature. We’re never given a glimpse into her mind, mostly because this isn’t her story, but because Gary misconstrues the situation as much as she probably misconstrues Rick’s reconciliation. For his part, Gary is just as naive as Karen, thinking their one kiss will lead to long-lasting love when it’s a moment of comfort between a love-sick boy and a girl who’s undergone an emotionally traumatizing event. Before you can sing “Keep on loving you,” Gary learns that love can’t keep up with raging hormones.
The ending is shocking, but realistic. Too often teen movies espouse sentimental pablum about the love you find in high school being the only love you need (a technique most often found in films catering to teen girls). For Gary, he idealizes Karen, and that idealization leaves him learning a harsh lesson.
Hopefully Olive’s new Blu-ray will allow audiences to revisit this 1980s cult classic. And the rocking 1980s soundtrack, while a taste repetitive, is the best!
The Last American Virgin trades in fantasy for authenticity, even though it devolves into the fantasy underbelly a time or two. Overall, it’s a film for teenagers about teenagers, or at least reminding them sex is easy, but love is way more difficult.