Skipped Parts (September 11/01)
There have been a lot of coming-of-age stories set in the 1950s. Skipped Parts, while partly a coming-of-age story, certainly wins points for trying to show a different perspective - but loses in a big way by not creating any memorable (or even likable) characters.
Bug Hall (Alfalfa in the early '90s Little Rascals movie) stars as a young man who's just moved to Wyoming with his crazy mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They've been shipped there by her father, a congressional candidate looking to avoid a public scandal. Leigh quickly proceeds to turn the small town upside down with her liberal (that's putting it mildly) views on everything from sex to neighborly relations (she tells the welcome wagon to "f" off). Meanwhile, Hall meets a young girl (played by Mischa Barton) who doesn't want to enter her teen years without knowing a few things about the birds and the bees, so she enlists Hall as a sex partner "for practice."
Skipped Parts is a marginally entertaining take on this sub-genre (the slice-o'-life in middle-America). But it's not enough to be just marginally entertaining, though, when past flicks of this sort (Stand by Me being the most prominent example) have managed to transcend the façade of the shiny, happy '50s and became more about human nature and growing up. Skipped Parts never rises above that façade. It's got all the imagery down (from the Buddy Holly-esque glasses to plaid skirts) but thematically this just isn't an interesting story.
And it doesn't help that the behavior of the two leads is so unbelievable. Without resorting to crassness, there is a scene in which Hall experiences his first wet dream and Leigh, in an effort to determine that it was indeed a wet dream, samples a bit of Hall's (how to put this?) refuse. That's just wrong.
The acting is uniformly good, though. Leigh, as usual, is quite effective - but the real surprise here is Hall. Known primarily for his Alfalfa impression, Hall really comes into his own with this role. This is a character that's supposed to be both cynical and clueless at the same time, and Hall walks that thin line efficiently and skillfully.
Snipped Parts may hold some appeal for those with a rigid upbringing, if only because Leigh's role as a parent will likely seem heroic. But for the rest of us, the movie comes off as one long attempt to shock.