From the trailer Just Looking appears to be another coming of age film along the lines of The Summer of ’42 with added doses of humor. That's only partially true. The trailer allows glimpses of teenage sexual curiosity and naivete, but doesn't prepare us for the issues of betrayal, loyalty, and friendship that evolve during the story. Before you begin to think that this sounds like a really heavy, serious movie, think again. Director Jason Alexander has fashioned a movie similar to A Christmas Story, where Life's lessons can be learned in a nostalgic, humorous, but not overly sappy 97-minute film.
Set in the mid 1950s long before R-rated movies and television with adult content supplied teens with sexual lessons, our 14 year old protagonist Lenny (Ryan Merriman) sets a simple goal for the summer – to witness a man and a woman making love. Lenny lives in the Bronx with his Jewish mother (Patti Lupone) and stepfather Polinsky the butcher (Richard V. Licata), stereotypically on the hefty side, but Lenny is so obsessed with sex that he’ll even stoop to see his parents in the act through the keyhole.
When Lenny is immediately busted by his stepfather, Lenny is sent to spend the summer in the boonies of Queens with his Aunt Norma (Ilana Levine) and her stereotypically Italian husband Phil (Peter Onorati). Lenny’s plan of sneaking peeks of his aunt and uncle “doing it” are dashed with Norma’s 7 month pregnancy, but Lenny does find compensation. Norma and Phil have a back yard and can BBQ, there’s some new teen friends to form a sex club (talk about it only), and nurse Hedy (Grechen Mol) on the block who once modeled for bra ads.
Naturally it proves to be a breakthrough summer for Lenny or why else tell the story. He’ll eat his first ham sandwich and learn some valuable lessons about Life from Hedy, Phil, Polinsky, and even Alice (Amy Braverman) of the Sex Club. Does Lenny ever get to witness a real act of love? I won’t reveal that here though you can probably guess the answer from the trailer. Besides, there’s much more to the story.
The movie’s charms don’t rely on the plot much anyway. It’s a period piece, so we get the old Chevrolets just coming out of their black phase, a dose of “Rock Around the Clock,” and women who dressed and acted like Doris Day. The teens take us behind the scenes, as they don’t talk like the teens in the traditional 1950’s sanitized television shows. They describe their limited knowledge of sex in a very real way, and Lenny’s bumbling plans to spy on the “act” are humorous. Young Merriman even forgets that he’s acting when he begins to talk with charming Gretchen Mol about his family life. He does a credible job carrying the movie, but really begins to look comfortable with that scene.
For a guy who started writing commercials before moving on to various television series, Marshall Karp has crafted a credible script for his first feature length film. Much of the reason that the characters do come across as realistically as they do is due to some well-scripted dialogue.
The characters are likeable despite their flaws, and the movie likewise is enjoyable despite sugar coating some of the key incidents. But if you're in the mood for a lighthearted, nostalgic comedy, this low budget independent film will suit you much better than most current Hollywood fare.