The Passion of Gary: 1982’s The Last American Virgin

last american virgin would have suffered from serious climax
A serious climax may have left The Last American Virgin a box office dud (and soon forgotten) in an age of light teen sex comedies.

1982 was a good year to be a teenager at the movies. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was released. So was Porky’s; this unlikely production would be the fourth highest-grossing film of the year (behind only E.T., Tootsie, and Rocky III). Adjusted for inflation, Porky’s still has the largest box office of any Canadian production.

Then there was The Last American Virgin.

Israeli writer-director Boaz Davidson envisioned it as the beginning of a lucrative film franchise. It was, after all, a remake to the helmer’s own Eskimo Limon ("Lemon Popsicle"), a cult hit in his native country that ultimately spawned eight sequels. One can imagine the disappointment when his provocative English-language debut disappeared quickly from theaters, relegated to the dustbin of forgotten 80s sex comedies and left to time and rot. This is why we must remember.

The Last American Virgin is essentially two films. The first is your standard teen comedy farce, an uninspired amalgam of other, better pictures about sex-obsessed teenage boys (like Animal House, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or even American Graffiti). The second is a sublime piece of subversive genius; coming-of-age as Passion play, humping as Hobson’s choice. Unfortunately, the derivative stuff comes first, but at least they get it out of the way.

Gary (Lawrence Monoson, killed by Jason in the misleadingly titled Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) is your typical high school sex comedy protagonist: sensitive, socially awkward, and lacking the good sense to know that pretty girls are beyond his reach. The object of his misguided affection is classmate Karen (Diane Franklin, Better Off Dead). She’s a newcomer to town; virgin Gary greets her arrival with the wistful, open-mouth stare of someone who drives a pink station wagon and never had a chance.

The first underwhelming twenty minutes or so of The Last American Virgin concern the comic misadventures of Gary and his bosom buddies/walking ids Rick (Steve Antin) and David (Joe Rubbo). It’s uninspired fare, a collection of prefab genre scenarios: snorting of sugar substitute passed off as cocaine, peeping through holes into the girls’ locker room, parents returning early to be confronted with the realities of the birds and bees, a cock-measuring contest, mockery of fat people, and a tiresome bit of sexual mistaken identity involving a friend’s mother. None of it is particularly meaningful or funny, but provokes pity for the actresses who exist solely to cameo as exposed breasts. The same can be said for a later sequence involving a blonde, latin Jocasta; Louisa Moritz (of Match Game fame) not only simulates sex with with two of the boys, but must do it with the knowledge that she once acted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The marketing of the film focuses on these elements (and the hits-heavy 80s soundtrack), making what follows one long, cruel joke on the audience expecting geeks-shall-inherit-the-Earth popcorn escapism. To Gary’s dismay, Karen begins to date conventionally attractive, bicep-tattooed Rick; she’s willfully, aggressively ignorant of Gary’s affections for her. An unlikely love triangle forms, albeit one with no equal sides. "You can just forget about her," says David. "Maybe he’ll give you sloppy seconds." Not that Gary would take them: he’s afraid of sex bordering on psychological phobia, and wants to have done it more than he wants to do it. Even when an attractive older woman offers her body to him, his response is to share her with his friends and wait his turn. A unique expression of sexual masochism, one that finds its apex in his later deflowering by an abrasive street walker with a venereal disease. He vomits after finally doing the deed.

Virgin’s mesmeric final moments, featuring Gary’s ultimate cuckolding/castration at a birthday party, are really what elevate the picture from mere cultural curiosity to unheralded subversive brilliance. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it, so let’s just say it involves some very real consequences to teen sex, a betrayal, and pawned stereo equipment. A decidedly Michael Haneke-esque bit of gut-punch audience sadism, made all the more powerful by how anachronistic it is; American multiplex pictures just do not have the courage to end like this.

Not any more.

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