Kids ★★★½

1995 Cannes Film Festival (In Competition)

Kids is pitched halfway between vérité and exploitation film, which gives it a unique power and also makes it uniquely problematic. The actors are all naturals, from their incessant posturing down to their minute expressions, and the group scenes feel much like unsupervised hangouts from my youth*, only more extreme. And that’s where the exploitation elements come in. Sex is everything for these boys. They dream about it, they do it, then they boast about it; repeat cycle. They aspire to be nothing more than cocks; failing that, drugs are a pretty good next option. In this regard, Telly is supreme, Casper lives vicariously through him, and that incredibly gone kid who “want[s] to buy you corn dogs” is totally fucked. Though they resemble typical adolescents in some ways, they are so hysterically out of control that it’s hard to interpret the film as a cautionary tale.

Furthermore, Clark relates strongly to his morally bankrupt characters, refusing to even cast that nigh-indisputable judgment on them. It’s sensational to be sure, but how could it not be with these ingredients? Would it be more respectable if Telly’s seductions were elided, or if nobody was shown having fun? That would just make Clark seem cowardly and condescending. I enjoy its sensationalism, but my enjoyment doesn’t preclude the repugnance I feel at other times. While Jennie’s HIV-positive test is a cheap ploy that regrettably looms large over the film, it makes sense as the moralistic turn of a grindhouse film. Kids is certainly a film of contradictions, but these make it fascinating and harder to pin down.

*I remember a field trip in 7th grade where one girl went around the bus asking people if they’d had sex; everyone responded coolly in the affirmative except me.