Kids was quite controversial when it was first released in 1995. Its frank portrayal of sex and drug use amongst teenagers would still be controversial today. The young adults in the film speak of sex and drugs in an unrestrained way that is provocative and shocking. Kids created such controversy that some questioned its merit as a film and it was given an NC-17 rating, which would have affected the box office revenue had the film not been released unrated in the United States. While the film's subject matter may disturb many viewers, it has an strong and clear message for young adults. It was the first film directed by Larry Clark, an American director who deals primarily with illegal drugs and underage sex. His 2002 film Ken Park, with themes ranging from incest to suicide, was either banned or never released in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. I remember being younger and hearing about Kids and knowing that it caused a commotion. It was always on the top shelf at the video store and temping me to rent it. Besides its controversial themes, Kids is known for featuring the debut performances of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, along with a few other young actors who found limited later success. Kids had to be controversial to succeed. The screenplay comes alive with the inspired performances from its cast. It is a film that forces you to stop and think and even question how the choices we have made have affected those around us.
We first meet Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a fifteen year old boy living in New York City, in bed with a young girl. She is a virgin and he is trying to convince her to have sex. Telly tells her what she wants to hear and she gives in. Afterward, in provocative scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, he wanders the streets of New York with his friend Casper (Justin Pierce) and relates his conquest in a graphic and detailed manner. It becomes clear that Telly enjoys de-virginizing girls and he explicitly states that he likes knowing that he will be their first partner. In search of food and drugs Telly and Casper head to their friend Paul's apartment. Inside they enter into conversation with a group of boys about prior sexual conquests while getting high. Interwoven is a scene with a group of girls discussing sex. The girls have vastly different views, especially when it comes to performing oral sex. Ruby (Rosario Dawson) and Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) were recently tested for STDs. Ruby, who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners, wanted to know her status and Jennie, who had sex once with Telly, accompanied her for moral support. Unfortunately Ruby is negative and Jennie has tested positive for HIV. She is shocked and saddened and unable to tell her parents. She wants to find Telly and spends the rest of the day in search of him. Telly spends the afternoon getting high and getting into a violent fight with a stranger before eventually setting his sights on Darcy (Yakira Peguero), the thirteen year old sister of a friend. The audience can feel the clock ticking and we are unsure if Jennie can reach Telly before he puts another girl at risk.
The beginning of Kids was provocative, but I was shocked by the ending of the film. It took quite a while for me to pick my jaw up off the floor. The circle of friends is so incestuous that it would be easy for each of them to have unknowingly affected each other with AIDS. Chloe Sevigny, who had an early career as a model, showcased some great talent in the film. She may have made some ill-advised films (The Brown Bunny in 2003, which I have not seen), but the spark that she had in Boys Don't Cry and Big Love is present in her first film role. Leo Fitzpatrick's IMDB profile says that some viewers thought Kids was a documentary and he was threatened. This kind of controversy could have been used to discuss the positive attributes of the film. This is the kind of film that can scare young kids and teach kids about the risks of unprotected sex. STDs and HIV exist and are a real problem. Are parents so naive to assume that their own children do not discuss sex so explicitly with a group of friends? Kids is not so explicit that it is child pornography, as the Washington Post claimed, but the film must be watched critically. It is a film that should be analyzed and discussed and I think that it would have been beneficial to watch the film when I was a teenager and to have had the opportunity to talk about these issues. The controversy surrounding Kids goes back to one of my main issues: censorship. I have always said that parents should practice self-censorship for their children and that the media should not edit for the masses.
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.