‘Teenage Cocktail’ Review: An Intoxicating Exploration of Young Love and Passion | SXSW 2016

     March 18, 2016


The power of young love can be intoxicating, especially when it’s brought to screen with such nuance and respect for raw emotion. Teenage Cocktail taps into the innate appeal of high school love stories but also has a unique edge that makes it a riveting romantic rollercoaster and successful thriller at the same time.

The movie stars Nichole Bloom as Annie, the new girl at school. She has a tough time making friends until she happens upon Jules (Fabianne Therese) and an immediate connection ignites between the two. They become fast friends and more, to the point that Annie’s mother (Michelle Borth) worries that they’re spending too much time together. Their friendship is pure, but it turns out, Lynn has a right to be concerned because Jules earns her spending money by flaunting herself in front of paying costumers online and Annie can’t resist the temptation to give it a try.

Teenage Cocktail kicks off as a highly captivating high school coming of age story. Annie’s very self-conscious and awkward, but her loving relationship with her family quickly establishes her as a likable lead that you hope grows comfortable enough to come out of her shell. Those qualities perfectly pave the way towards her budding friendship with Jules. You’ll find yourself rooting for the two to hit it off and when they do, you get just as much satisfaction out of it as they do.

If you’re sick of movies featuring a popular girl manipulating the school outcast, Therese’s character and her effect on Annie will be quite refreshing. Jules doesn’t have an agenda. She isn’t trying to recruit Annie for a web modeling scheme. She simply values having someone who’s always there for her, just like Annie. Teenage Cocktail never neglects the fact that Jules has a hold over her, but it’s woven into the narrative in a more subtle way than we’re used to seeing. Annie is obsessed with Jules and that obsession gives Jules a good deal of control, but it develops in an organic way that justifies the dynamics of their relationship.


Image via SXSW

As Annie and Jules grow closer and explore their romance more, we meet one of the men who’s fallen for Jules’ online persona. Frank (Pat Healy) has a family that he’s working hard to support, but he’s powerless against the urge to ogle Jules despite the fact that it could topple his fragile marriage. I’ve said this before, but it feels necessary to say it again – Healy needs to be in the spotlight more often. Teenage Cocktail makes a pretty drastic tonal shift towards the end and it works well because of Bloom and Therese’s chemistry, but also largely because Healy has the versatility to support it.

Other performances worth noting are Borth and Joshua Leonard as Annie’s parents. At first they’re your typical loving, well-meaning mother and father, just trying to be supportive while gently coaxing their daughter away from bad behavior. When it becomes apparent that there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed, it’s especially interesting to see how they both react and in those moments, Borth and Leonard excel by delivering two drastically different performances. Borth boasts one lengthy dialogue-driven scene that’s captured in a single shot yet hits an extremely wide range of beats and emotions. That moment segues into a powerful one-two punch because right after that, we get a scene featuring Leonard that could make you well up due to his facial expressions and body language alone.

The only element of the film that feels a bit artificial is director John Carchietta’s choice to put a red or pink hue over select visuals. He’s pretty consistent with the technique, which tends to pop up during the more romantic, music video-like scenes, but in one particular moment, the switch from natural frames to ones with this filter is so abrupt that it catches you completely off guard and takes you out of the film. [Note: We’ve just been informed that this was the result of a screening glitch so you will not see this in the final film.]

There’s that and two questionable minor plot points, but otherwise Teenage Cocktail is a quality film that goes well beyond entertaining high school romance and makes a lasting impression by highlighting the overwhelming power of blinding passion. Whether it’s Annie’s love for Jules or Jules’ dream to move to New York, Teenage Cocktail manages to inspire you to root for them to achieve their dreams while skillfully weaving in warning signs that there will be consequences to their risky decisions.

Grade: B+

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