Acid Test

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Acid Test
"There was a degree to which I found this both too easy to get into and therefore hard to like."

Do I like Acid Test? The movie, that is: not the flying without wings (or plane or any other visible means of support) hippy dippy teen rebellion sort of trip that lies at the heart of this story. Good question and one I am supposed to answer when I eventually come back down to Earth.

Though tis a difficult one: to like or not to like, as Hamlet, a constant presence in this film, might have tweeted had he happened today.

Copy picture

On the one hand, this is a seriously neat and tidy, well-made, incisive look at a soon-to-be-18 teen going off the rails. Or being tested. Jenny (Juliana DeStefano) is what I believe is known in the USA as an “A-student”. She sails through her work at the expensive private school for which her father (Brian Thornton) works hard to pay. She is destined for Harvard.

Then all goes to pot. Well, acid. As Jenny heads out to a Riot Grrrl concert and encouraged by bad boy Owen (Reece Everett Ryan), she tries her first tab and sees the world in its true colours. OK, different colours.

Best friend Drea (Mai Le) disapproves, but loves her all the same. Ditto mum (Mia Ruiz). Completing the set, English teacher and wise old bird Ms Scattergood (Sara Gaston) is on hand to dispense words of wisdom as Jenny’s previously clean-cut life descends into…chaos? Not quite. There are still pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast. Daddy mostly still loves her, and mum will light a candle for her at the local church. Still, confusion. And if not entirely a derailment, Jenny’s express to academic stardom and establishment success is suddenly idling in a siding some way off the main track.

So, it’s all about the drugs? Not really. The acid acts more as catalyst. A dramatic one. But it could have been almost anything. The arrival of her impending birthday, and the fact that she will be able to vote for the first time in a Presidential election. Because it’s November 1992 and change, in the shape of Bill Clinton is in the air.

More than electoral change. For Riot Grrrl are also Jenny’s entry ticket to a new world of feminism and women’s rights along with the acid, Jenny is starting to ask questions. About the role of women in contemporary America. The role of her mother in their family. And her own position in both.

It’s a heady brew, and more than enough to send anyone off the rails. And yet… there was a degree to which I found this both too easy to get into and therefore hard to like. Everyone in this tale is so… nice, so reasonable, so adult. Even Jenny’s dad who in a more heightened dramatic presentation might be expected to throw his daughter out into the cold and snow with parting exhortation to “Go, now! And do not darken our doors again.”

It is a well-told, well-presented story. Some, though, might consider it lacked bite.

It is also a very personal story for director Jenny Waldo, who not only shares a first name with the lead character, but also a fondness for a Barbara Kruger image that plays an important part in film Jenny’s awakening, and for Riot Grrrl.

Not exactly autobiographical. Still, one gets the impression there is much of Jenny Waldo in film Jenny. Also, many of her favourite tracks, including songs from Giant Kitty, Fea and Pleasure Venom. Great stuff if you like that sort of thing.

OK. I’ll come off the fence. I enjoyed it. Some, however, might find it a little bloodless. All the same, 3.5 stars.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2022
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A coming-of-age rebellion fueled by Riot Grrrl music, a dysfunctional family, and LSD

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