USA 1995, dir. Larry Clark, 90m

Twenty-four hours in the lives of a group of Manhattan teenagers, mostly skateboarders, mostly on drugs, mostly into random, casual sex. Notably active in the latter arena is scrawny Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), an unlikely Lothario with a predilection for depriving post-pubertal girls of their virginity. Shot in a loose, semi-documentary style, the film’s drama – or, more accurately, melodrama – kicks off when Jenny (Chloe Sevigny), one of Telly’s previous conquests, discovers that she is HIV positive, and since she’s only ever been with one man, Telly is a carrier. The film alternates between Jenny’s frantic search for Telly, and Telly’s exploits around town with best mate Casper (Justin Pierce). Strong material, demanding strong, sensitive handling, which is precisely what it doesn’t get from debutant director Clark – a fiftysomething best known as a photographer – and scriptwriter Harmony Korine. Kids is nowhere near as perceptive, original or impressive as Korine’s later directorial debut, Gummo, lazily settling instead for a hip, deadpan nihilism that smacks equally of exploitation and phoniness. The film isn’t without moments of interest and offers a fresh perspective on familiar New York locations, but it never recovers from a gratuitously unpleasant set piece in which a young black man is savagely beaten by Casper’s skateboarding gang. If the film is worth watching at all, it’s mainly for Sevigny’s striking debut performance, which effortlessly manages to transcend the limitations of the script and direction. It’s a strong debut from an actress whose deserved – and later got – better service from her collaborators.

by Neil Young
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