Monday, June 7, 2010

Mini’s First Time (Trigger Street Production/Bold Films, 2004)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a quite intriguing movie I’d recorded off Lifetime last January: Mini’s First Time, which from the title seemed like a moderately interesting sex comedy about a teenage girl desperately trying to lose her virginity. It turned out to be a lot more than that, an utterly amoral romp through the morals (or lack of same) among the entertainment industry’s executives and hangers-on in the ultra-rich precincts of Beverly Hills, with a cheeky narration delivered by Minerva “Mini” Droggs (Nikki Reed) herself written, like the rest of the film, by Nick Guthe (who also directed and played a tiny role), with a cheekiness that combines arrogance and amorality with a blissfully willed ignorance of the consequences of her acts. It starts with Mini in front of her senior class at graduation, announcing that she’s the first “C” student in the history of the school to be chosen as valedictorian and saying it’s been a rough year for her but she’s grateful for the understanding her classmates have shown and their support in selecting her for that honor.

Then she gives us her backstory, and writer-director Guthe goes into the flashbacks that will occupy most of the film: Mini’s mom, Diane Droggs (Carrie-Anne Moss), came to Hollywood at age 20 to make it as an actress, got knocked up by a producer who promised her a small TV role if she’d put out for him, was told she should have a “vacuum job” done but decided that 18 years of child support was worth more to her than a lousy two days’ work on a TV show — so Mini came into the world all too aware that her mom regarded her as a mercenary property rather than showing her any real love or the slightest hint of a maternal instinct. Diane kicked around the town for several years, into and out of the beds of rich men who would help her and not-so-rich men who would thrill her, until she finally landed a wealthy husband: public relations man Martin Tennan (Alec Baldwin, top-billed — the years have not been kind to him but he’s playing a part whose genteel seediness is just right for what he looks like now).

Of course, within six months she was tricking out on him with friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances and the stereotypical personal trainer, Fabrizio (Rick Fox), whose tan is as phony as his unplaceable accent and who services just about all the women in this particular block, including Diane’s friend Jelena Mariskova Flachsman (Svetlana Metkina). Mini tells us that she wants to devote her entire life to having “new experiences,” and one of those involves registering with an ‘escort bureau” and becoming a call girl — she’s eagerly snatched up (no pun intended) by the first escort bureau she tries once they find out how young she is, and the first time she goes out on a job she ends up with a scared religious type who notices her resemblance to his niece and spends their entire time together kneeling at her feet, clutching a Bible and crying. When she comes home after her dispiriting experience, she says hello to her mom and mom asks how the night went. “What? My first night turning tricks? Could have been better,” Mini says. “That’s nice,” says her mom, establishing what we’ve previously suspected — that she’s so busy getting drunk (her main avocation besides extramarital sex) she’s totally oblivious to what her daughter is doing, or even what she’s saying about what she’s doing.

Mini tells the head of her escort service, “The next time, don’t send me out to anyone who has a conscience,” and the next client she gets sent out to is — surprise! — her own stepfather, whom she blindfolds and has sex with in the dark so he won’t realize whom he’s with — only she gets “outed” when he corners her in the parking lot and returns her keys, which she’d left in his hotel room. From there the movie turns into Double Indemnity meets Lolita, as Mini and Martin embark on a full-fledged affair literally under Diane’s nose — in one hilarious scene Martin is doing something sexual with Mini under the bearskin rug that serves as her bed cover, and Mom walks in and says, “Have you seen Martin around? I can’t find him,” then tells her daughter that she and whoever is under the blanket with her should leave by the back door when they’re done so the neighbors can’t see them — and eventually they decide that they want to be an above-board couple, but Martin doesn’t want to divorce Diane because then she’ll get half of his money.

“There’s another way,” Mini says ominously — no, she doesn’t mean murder (at least not yet!) but she does mean driving her mom crazy by feeding her prescription pills, spiking her drinks (which Mini mixes for her) with them so the combined effect of the alcohol and the drugs will lead to a total psychotic breakdown and get her hospitalized. Only on the day they expect to find her totally over the edge, she’s O.D.’d on sleeping pills instead; Martin wants to call 911 but Mini talks him out of it, saying that Diane’s accidental death is just the break they’ve been looking for — and when she doesn’t appear to be dying on cue, Mini talks Martin into outright killing her by putting her in her car, driving it to the garage, sealing the garage door and leaving Diane in the car with the motor running so it will appear she committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Then Martin and Mini take a vacation — only they’re spotted by their next-door-neighbor, Mike Rudell (Jeff Goldblum), who gets pictures proving that they’re in a sexual relationship and threatens to blackmail them.

Also on their trail is the Los Angeles Police detective who’s assigned to investigate Diane’s death, a dorkily cute guy named Dwight Garson (Luke Wilson, doing much the same act he did in the Ben Kingsley vehicle You Kill Me — though this time around he’s not supposed to be Gay) who’s essentially channeling Peter Falk’s Columbo character and hoping that just one more detail will unravel the cover-up and lead either Martin, Mini or both to confess. In the end Martin loses his P.R. job and gets sent up for Diane’s murder, and Mini waltzes away scot-free; the film’s last shot shows her speeding off in her cool BMW convertible while her voice tells us that if we’re upset that we haven’t been given anyone to identify with but her, too bad, we’ll get over it. Earlier she’s mentioned that Martin Tupperman, the classmate who deserved the valedictorian honor, is recovering quite nicely and should be well enough to go to Harvard in the fall — adding The Bad Seed to the bizarre combination of movies Nick Guthe has evoked in this one.

I usually don’t like movies that are this cynical, but Guthe carries it off with such wicked wit and devilish aplomb that it works — and the movie is virtually perfectly cast: Nikki Reed is just right as the irresistible morsel of barely pubescent womanhood who can bend virtually any man to her will — she’s not that great-looking but she plays the role with a sort of demented perkiness (if the beach had figured in the plot they might have been able to call it Gidget Goes Bad) and a physicality that pushes her charms so totally in our face we can understand and accept the effect she has on the male characters in the film — including the teenage boy she seduces away from his fiancée when she dates him as part of Mike Rudell’s hit TV “reality” show Absolutely Positive, where couples about to be married are hooked up with other partners on the eve of their weddings to make sure they’re “absolutely positive” about whether or not they really want to commit to this person for the rest of their lives and not have sex with anyone else — a cheeky premise in itself for a story that goes out of its way to deny even the possibility of human monogamy.

It depicts sex throughout as either a casual recreation or a commodity, and though it’s clearly a joke the joke is on any viewer who actually takes sex, either abstractly or in their own life, any more seriously than it’s regarded by the characters in the film. A less cynical storyteller than Guthe might have actually made us feel sorry for Alec Baldwin’s character when his nymphet starts running around on him, but Guthe just makes us feel he was an idiot for ever believing he could hold on to her in the first place. The Lifetime version of this movie is annoying as all [expletive deleted] because all the swear words have been blipped — leading to a very patchy soundtrack in some scenes — but it’s still a lot of good clean dirty fun and well worth watching for its cheery, cheeky cynicism; the climactic scene in which Alec Baldwin and Jeff Goldblum beat each other up to the sound of a Frank Sinatra wanna-be singing a banal uptempo song in a lounge/swing arrangement itself makes this movie worth your time!