After our forefathers at National Lampoon laid down the teen comedy testament that is Animal House in 1978, by 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky’s had signalled the genesis of a new, commercial breed of coming-of-age movies. Diving right in to the hormone fuelled world of the modern teenager, these were more realistic and graphic films than those that followed. The genre had evolved from the heyday of sexploitation comedies in the mid 70s as better talent and bigger budgets began to focus on the younger crowds and their rediscovered, post-Vietnam freedom.
The Last American Virgin is kind of the missing link between those two eras – very gritty and low budget, but also having a keenly youth-sympathetic story and production. It also helped establish some important themes, including unrequited love, pregnancy, and prostitution, which would reoccur throughout the decade, and be explored better by classics from Risky Business to Dirty Dancing. The chronology fits better when you consider that this was a remake of Israeli director Boaz Davidson’s 1978 magnum opus Lemon Popsicle. Upon realising his dream of coming to America he adapted it for a US production as this teensploitation masterpiece.
The adaptation came about thanks to Lemon Popsicle‘s producers, B Movie legends Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, coming to Hollywood and buying The Cannon Group. They funded an impressive catalogue of low budget classics with the studio, including a tonne of Chuck Norris films, Breakin’, and its infamous sequel Electric Boogaloo. With this background it’s not surprising that The Last American Virgin looks really strapped for cash. The only exception being the staggering amount of extras fleshing out impressively decorated party and diner scenes. They must have been offering free pizza from the movie’s pizza shop. The cast were almost all first timers and put on fantastically average performances, although Davidson reckons he liked working with inexperienced actors anyway. As a result, he was lucky enough to happen upon Diane Franklin, who went on to star in the loveable Better Off Dead….
To entice American audiences, Davidson rather impressively spent most of whatever modest budget he had on the soundtrack. Consequently it’s one of the best Pop soundtracks in film history, featuring a great selection of New Wave and Soft Rock tracks. I’m talking everything from The Police to Devo, the more obscure like The Plimsouls, and of course, teen movie staples The Cars and Oingo Boingo. There are gems everywhere, and it’s honestly surprising the budget stretched as far as it did, so you have to forgive Davidson’s reuse of some songs. However, at the risk of sounding serious for a second, the repetition creates a motif effect typical of an actual score – particularly emotional moments are marked by Quincy Jones’ Just Once and Journey’s Open Arms, while Whip It and Shake it Up back the crazier scenes.
There really isn’t much to say about the plot, except that it is bizarrely realist. In retrospect, this is what sets the movie apart from the Hollywood fare that followed. Basically, there is a love triangle where our main man Garry, Lawrence Monoson, falls for Diane Franklin’s Karen at first sight, but she is more into his ladies-man buddy Rick – Steve Antin, who ended up in The Goonies. Unfortunately Monoson comes across delightfully awkward and creepy so we can’t establish real concern for Garry, but the poor guy is definitely relatable. Meanwhile, the gang carry on with their silly antics as they attempt to get laid wherever possible, with hilariously mixed results – from crabs to angry boyfriends and other tropes in the making. Did I mention there is the classic ‘fat friend’ too, Joe Rubbo, the picture’s umpteenth debutant? The best part of the story is definitely the end, which is a real kick in the guts by any standard, so I won’t say any more on that.
Thanks to its wonderful low budget honesty and inexperienced acting, The Last American Virgin has a lot of charm. In a way it’s a nice foil to its flashier, and often fluffier, contemporaries. Along with its finer peer, Fast Times, the movie had a rather surprising influence on the glorious teen cinema renaissance of the 80s, helping shape the themes and tropes to come. That said, I almost don’t believe the wholesome John Hughes watched this, it’s just too dirty. The movie hasn’t held up well either, but the inadequacy is fun, and the exploitation quality keeps it more realistic. Even if you don’t care about the history of teen sex comedies, watch it for the killer soundtrack.
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