“I asked if it was wrong for a girl to prove to a boy exactly how much she loved him.”
When a high school teacher (William Shatner) allows his class to talk openly about sex, his job is jeopardized; but his well-meaning students refuse to let him to be punished for something they initiated.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Beau Bridges Films
- Collective Action
- Generation Gap
- High School
This unfairly maligned “youth picture” — which could easily have been turned into a trashy exploitation flick — instead deals honestly and respectfully with some surprisingly relevant issues. While it’s purportedly about sex education (and what teachers should or shouldn’t be allowed to discuss with their students), it quickly moves into the fascinating realms of students’ rights, activism, and freedom of speech. These teenagers — each unique and sincere — are willing to stick up for what they believe in, and their actions show the power of tenacity and collective will.
Fortunately, the adults in the film are three-dimensional as well; while McCormack’s mom (Virginia Field) is perhaps a bit too stereotypically uptight about her daughter’s sexuality, other parents are conflicted in their own ways, and even the principal — who could easily have been the heavy here — is played with nuance by Edward Platt. While an essential aspect of the film’s ending is unrealistic and far too pat (a key character suddenly has a radical shift in attitude), overall it provides a satisfying resolution to this enjoyable, provocative film.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Surprisingly strong performances by many of the teen actors — especially Patty McCormack (evil Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed)
- William Shatner in a pre-“Star Trek” role
- Edward Platt as the well-meaning but pressured principal
- A unique depiction of meaningful collective activism by teenagers
- Good use of natural locations in Southern California
- A realistic — albeit cynical — look at the competing demands of teachers (and principals); as a colleague reminds the idealistic Shatner, “You’re being paid to lead these kiddies down the garden path of readin’, writin’, and retirement…”
Yes. As one commenter on IMDb put it, this is an “enlightened, sensitive, and even-handed treatment” of sexual education in high school.