Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our Time (1974)

          Before establishing a reliable brand with a run of moody conspiracy thrillers and wiseass action pictures, director Peter Hyams took journeyman gigs like helming Our Time, a sensitive-ish youth drama that’s only incrementally better than the average afterschool special of its era. Shot with a photographer’s eye for atmospheric detail (always a Hyams signature), the picture has adequate period texture but nowhere near enough originality or substance. Set in 1955, the exceedingly slight story concerns the romantic travails of private-school students Abby (Pamela Sue Martin), a pretty youth generally found courting trouble through insubordination and tardiness, and Muffy (Betsy Slade), her ugly-duckling best friend/roommate.
          Over the course of several months, Abby takes her romance with prep-school student Michael (Parker Stevenson) to the physical realm, while Muffy endures all sorts of misery as she pursues a stuck-up boy who doesn’t want her and reluctantly accepts the affections of a bespectacled dork who does. The first hour of the movie is quite tedious, since there’s no real dramatic tension—the characters aren’t interesting enough for viewers to get concerned about their romantic entanglements. Worse, Abby’s storyline, which is ostensibly the main thread of the story, is eclipsed by Muffy’s sordid melodrama. It’s not as if the filmmakers failed to select a focus; rather, it’s as if the filmmakers grossly overestimated the dramatic value of Abby’s romantic misadventures.
          This problem is exacerbated by a charisma inequity among the leading players: Martin and Stevenson, who later reunited as costars of the TV series The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, are not well matched, for while Martin offers naturalism and pouty sexiness, Stevenson is so blandly professional that he seems more like a stand-in than an actual performer. Therefore, Slade easily steals the movie from both romantic leads, since she gets to perform nearly every interesting action in the story. (It’s hard to discuss the specifics of her big moments without giving away the only substantial turn in the story, so suffice to say she’s affecting when the time comes.)
          As for Hyams, he delivers characteristically confident camerawork, slinging long lenses low to the ground in order to create scope, and sliding dollies through large spaces in order to accentuate scenes with motion. It seems clear he also created a comfortable space for actors, but the twin shortages of a shallow script and unexceptional acting limit how much he can accomplish. Still, the last half-hour of the picture, when the lives of the characters take a bleak turn, has a little bite, and deft character actor Robert Walden shows up for a memorable one-scene role. (Available at

Our Time: FUNKY