Teenage Mother

Director: Jerry Gross 
Arlene Farber, Frederick Riccio, Julie Ange

I think that for most of us, the one person that concerns us the most is in fact ourselves. I realize with that statement, that there will be a lot of people who will instantly protest it, claiming that it is one of the most selfish things that they have ever heard. In response, I will tell those people just to think about it for a while, more specifically think about their own lives and what they do on a day to day basis. Those people will see that most of the things a person does a day is for their own good. Nothing selfish about that - it's just plain old human nature. But there are plenty of times when we think of others. Many times it's when we think of our friends and our loved ones, and the well-being of these people. At the same time, there are a lot of times when we think of others in a way that has us wondering what others think of us. All of us have accomplishments that we hope others have seen and as a result these people think highly of us. In my case, one of my accomplishments I am proud of and I hope people think highly of is the work I have done on my web site. I've been doing this web site for over fourteen years, and I feel much rewarded by all of my efforts. But while we have accomplishments that we may be proud of, all of us have skeletons in our closets that we are embarrassed by. I'll admit a few that I have right now, and these skeletons also concern this web site. When I look back at some of the reviews I have written in the past, I am embarrassed by them. Sometimes I think, "You moron - how could you have written something so dumb?" In fact, I have seriously considered several times rewriting some of these reviews, but I've ultimately decided not to because not only would such action seem dishonest to me, these certain reviews as they are serve as a reminder to me to write better or face even more embarrassment.

As I said, everyone has embarrassments in the past. This includes people who we hold in high esteem, like politicians. In fact, if you look at the movie world, not just at movie critics who review obscure movies, you will find a great deal of people in this world who have some major embarrassments in their film-related worlds. These embarrassments can happen at any time to these people. There are plenty of people in the film world who managed to establish themselves as people to be admired, then made a slip-up that they will be regretting for the rest of their lives. For example, with the movie Showgirls, it was not only a humiliation for the famous director Paul Verhoeven, but also for famous screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. And I am sure that actor Brian Dennehy to this day is repeatedly asking himself, "What were you thinking?!?" when he agreed to take off his clothes in the movie The Belly Of An Architect. But for most people in the film world, their embarrassments come from the early years of their film career, when they were starting off and would take any job so that they would be able to put food on the table. One famous case of this was with Paul Newman, who was so embarrassed by his film debut (The Silver Chalice), he wrote a letter of apology to his local newspaper when a TV station in his area scheduled an airing of the movie. (Of course, Newman's published letter resulted in the TV station getting high ratings when they aired the movie.) Other embarrassing debuts include Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules In New York, and Sylvester Stallone in A Party At Kitty And Stud's.

As you have probably guessed by now, the movie being reviewed here - Teenage Mother - not only has the debut of a yet-to-be-famous actor, but a debut that this now-famous actor is probably very embarrassed by. The actor in question happens to be comedian Fred Willard Teenage Mother(Cracking Up), who in recent years has appeared in popular movies such as Anchorman and American Wedding. I suspect that he is embarrassed by this movie for more than one reason. The most obvious reason is the salacious subject matter of the movie, though another reason would be because it was made by the notorious schlockmeister Jerry Gross, who in his long career created and/or distributed cheap schlock such as I Spit On Your Grave and Girl On A Chain Gang. Fred Willard making his debut in a movie written and directed by Jerry Gross? I knew this was a movie I had to see. The plot centers around a high school and the people in it. When the movie opens, the school has just hired a new teacher, Erika Petersen. Erika has come all the way from Sweden to be the school's sex education teacher. Not all of her new students are friendly towards her - one student named Duke is a real creep, not just towards her, but also to his former girlfriend Arlene (Farber, The French Connection). Arlene, while still showing some feeling towards Duke, is currently in a new relationship with her dopey boyfriend Tony. She loves Tony enough that she wants to have sex with him, and they eventually do. Not long afterwards, she announces to Tony and her family (and pretty much everyone else) that she is pregnant. This leads to a number of heated consequences, including Arlene running away from home as well as the parents thinking that Ms. Petersen's sex education classes are to blame for the pregnancy. Can Ms. Petersen keep her job? More importantly, what will Arlene end up doing?

I am sure that one of the things you are most curious about concerning Teenage Mother - if not, the biggest thing - is how Fred Willard comes across in the movie. Not wanting to imitate the movie's attitude of teasing the audience for the longest time, I will start my critique of the movie by telling you if Willard has plenty to be ashamed of. Actually, when it comes to his performance, Willard doesn't really have anything to be embarrassed about. Willard, who here is almost unrecognizable from how he looked even just ten years later in his career, plays a rather minor role as the school's coach, making only a few brief appearances during the course of the movie. His acting here isn't exceptional, but neither is it something to be humiliated about. In fact, his character comes across better than any of Teenage Mother's main characters. While Willard's character has the excuse of being a minor character for being fairly featureless, there is no excuse for the poor way that Erika, Duke, Arlene, and Tony come across. Although these characters each have significant amounts of time onscreen, none of them become flesh and blood characters. For example, Duke is a guy who likes to crack jokes, deal drugs, and bully characters around. But we never see what is motivating him, or anything else that makes us understand why he is such a jerk. Another example of this is with the character of Tony. When he hears the big announcement from his girlfriend that she is pregnant, how does he react? Actually, I'm not even sure if you can label what he immediately does as a reaction. He shows no big emotion at all, no panic at the prospect of his planned future possibly being changed in a way that would not be his first choice. He just mutters a few lines of dialogue in a way that's so passionless that it's no surprise that Arlene subsequently decides to take him out of the picture and run away from him.

I don't really blame the actors for how they come across in this movie. The blame for how badly these characters come across lies with writer and director Jerry Gross. He instantly gets some demerit points for some real bad miscasting; the actor playing the teenage Duke looks (at least) in his late 20s, and Arlene's best female friend looks like she is in her 40s. Also, the actors can't be blamed for the fact that much of their dialogue was obviously not recorded during shooting, but was later (and very obviously) dubbed during post-production. Gross also forces the cast to play some real tired stereotypes. Should it come to a surprise to anyone that the school's prudish librarian is a woman who wears glasses and looks close to retirement age, or that Duke's drug supplier wears a hat and sunglasses? From reading stuff like that, it should also come to no surprise that Gross seems helpless behind the camera in other areas. I realize that he was working with a really low budget, but that's no excuse for not hearing anything when someone is slugged twice in the stomach, or deciding to stage some scenes in hard to make out darkness instead of rewriting the scenes to take place in brighter conditions. I am sure that for some of you, stuff like that isn't a concern, and you are just looking for the sleazy stuff. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for the most part Teenage Mother - at least by today's standards - comes across as extremely tame. None of the cast takes off their clothes, nor do we get to see any sex scenes. In one scene when pornographic pictures are passed around, we never get to see for ourselves what is in those pictures. An attempted rape sequence doesn't get very far before the would-be rapist is scared away, and drug taking is devoted to just one puff of a marijuana joint.

Oh, and remember Arlene's pregnancy? It turns out she was not pregnant - she lied to her boyfriend and everyone else about it for reasons that are never really made clear. As I said, Teenage Mother fails to deliver on its sleazy promises for the most part. However, near the very end of the movie, Jerry Gross pulls something out that is so sleazy and gross that it feels like the entire movie is sordid. It takes place at a school board meeting, where parents have been invited to talk about how Ms. Petersen's sex education lessons have been corrupting her students. In her defense, Petersen pulls out a film she was preparing to show her students, a film showing the birth of a baby. What follows is some of the most disgusting footage I have ever seen in a film. The film, which is shown to us, begins with a closeup shot of a spreadeagled woman showing off her, uh, lower regions. Then we get to see the delightful image of a doctor jamming "universal obstetric forceps" far up into that lower region. We then get to see the woman's baby s-l-o-w-l-y pulled out by those forceps, bringing with it a lot of bloody juice and other gruesome vaginal products. Although this birth footage only lasts about three minutes long, it feels like an eternity, coming across as so sick and repulsive that there is no titillation for the audience, just a need for vomit bags. And after this birth footage ends, Petersen is asked why she was going to show this. (A real valid question, if you ask me.) And she answers, "They would have seen the beauty and purity of the reproductive system!" Well, that line does give Teenage Mother's audience a good laugh, but as you probably concluded, it isn't worth sitting through nearly eighty minutes of incompetent writing and directing, as well as a truly barf-inducing moment, to get a few seconds of entertainment. Come to think of it, this movie might be a good addition to modern high school sex education classes. Sex-related matters in this movie come across as either so boring or so gross that I'm sure it would reduce the teenage pregnancy rate.

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See also: High School Hellcats, Hot Summer, Malibu High