Normal Adolescent Behavior: Havoc 2:
I will often fall into the realm of labeling and comparing movies. Normal Adolescent Behavior: Havoc 2, for instance, goes into the category 'weird movies that are sequels in name only and have such strange titles that one might think they are picking up the latest tweener video game'.
However, there is that huge word 'unrated' on the DVD case, a word that actually toplines the title of the movie, so you adults have reasons to get your hopes up. Oddly, Havoc 2 is actually far better and more sensitive than anyone might expect. It's not the sleaze genre exploitation fiesta DVD box readers are set up to expect, but you still win a prize, even if it's not what you thought.
The rise - post-World War Two - of the nuclear family, increasing divorce rates and career swapping every five years has increasingly raised a question: what do we do with our friends? It's this question that's at the heart of Havoc 2. Wendy (Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia fame) has two girlfriends and three boyfriends whom she's known since primary school. They've been so close so long that they are a closed circle against the outside world; they get all they need only from each other, including satisfaction of sexual desires.
At first blush it might sound kind of cool. Never worrying about finding a date, making a friend or fretting about sex. They've even developed a sense of superiority that disdains the casual hook-ups and callous behavior of their contemporaries. But as college looms, the unspoken question is; what happens next? Complicating matters, Wendy begins surreptitiously dating outside the circle, seeing a boy named Sean who soon develops his own sense of entitlement and righteous indignation towards what he sees as a sick arrangement. The trouble is, what is more sick; the group's version of family or Sean's exclusionary ownership trip? And what might happen when the group's alpha-female Billie (Kelli Garner) catches wind of Wendy's wayward stance?
There are a few potentially exploitative elements to Havoc 2, chief among them the notion of teen group-sex, that must have caused MPAA cheeks to turn red, but there's no pandering going on, and actually no real nudity. Which is why slobbering boys and girls will likely be turned off (regardless of the presence of the smoking-hot Garner and equally tasty Ashton Holmes as Sean). The trade off is a thoughtful, stylish look at adolescent bonding with an awesome contemporary soundtrack and almost universally great performances. Holmes brings simmering but subtle complexity to Sean, a boy who at first seems to be a sane beacon, but slowly transforms into an insidious, controlling father figure. Tamblyn's gradual, grudging eye opening anchors the film while Garner steals the show as her Billie clutches at straws that eventually break her back.
Havoc 2 sneaks up on you without an agenda, just an intelligent, circumspect look at what it means to be a teenager, friend, lover and family member in a culture that provides no answers, only ever more vexing questions.
Tamblyn and Garner et al aren't the only things that look fabulous in this 1.85:1 (enhanced for widescreen TVs) presentation. The movie has a slightly gauzy look and color-scheme, at times, meant to invoke the tenuous idyll this group of kids clings to as they rush headlong into the duplicitous mundane-ness of adulthood, but on the whole looks grand in a well-mastered transfer, with clean, clear colors, no crummy elements and no digital malfeasance. Though it's not the intent of the director to make adults leer, these hot bods deserve no less in a DVD package.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and English Stereo Surround sound ensure that Normal Adolescent Behavior sounds fresh. Sound design isn't very complex, not that the subject matter needs it, but the soundtrack songs stand out well (and are all darn good too) and all scraps of dialog are clear. Anyway, crank up those tunes, viewers!
Utilitarian extras include English and Spanish subtitles, as well as Closed Captioning, all for the Feature film only. But there's more, plenty more than is even listed on the DVD box. What's that about? Making you feel like you've gotten a present? Checking to see if reviewers are looking at everything? Three Deleted scenes total about 14 minutes. All deal with the subplot that is Sean's parents; Wendy's brother's obsession with the mom, and the tumultuous marriage the parents share, what it means to be married and have a family. Certainly not extraneous material, but stuff that would have weighed down the central thrust.
A 14-minute featurette called Friends With Benefits: The Making Of ... includes garden variety EPK-style interviews, on-set interviews, behind the scenes stuff, and an overall pretty-deep spelling out of the film's themes. Most interesting is a display of the inherent difficulties and rise-to-the-challenge all involved engaged in to illuminate the intimacy on display.
What's In The Box: Character Profiles is three-minutes of, well, character profiles: profiles in the sense that they are video montages of the characters in Polaroid frames, set to a rocking soundtrack. Shallow but sexy, or are they revealing yet beguiling? You decide!
Sneak Peeks includes two DVD teaser-trailers and two previews, one preview of which is for the original Havoc, which looks to be a wildly different movie. Finally, DVD-Rom features are there for those who wish to install an Interactual player on their Windows-based machine. These DVD-Rom and web-only features are not accessible to Macintosh users. Which is to say, I didn't access them. The DVD layer shift occurs at about one hour, seven minutes in, and it's a whopper.
I'll Recommend Normal Adolescent Behavior: Havoc 2, an exceedingly smart and psychologically open-ended drama. Cosmetically a cross between Larry Clark's Kids and Sofia Copolla's The Virgin Suicides, Havoc 2 does much more with writer/ director Beth Schacter's material. Gloss, glam and prurience are (at times dubious) icing on a complex cake. Searing performances drive home a timely gaze at the difficulties adolescents face in an increasingly insular, judgmental and fractured society. What does it mean to bond, to make friends and to feel love, as these things become seemingly more meaningless and transitory. As Wendy and friends must do, you'll have to make up your own answers, and see if they fit.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com