Despite being utterly conventional in terms of storytelling and technical execution, Little Darlings is unusual because it presents a sensationalistic premise without lapsing into vulgarity. Yet the film cannot be described as sophisticated, because the characterizations are one-dimensional and the picture often gets mired in nonsense along the lines of uninspired physical comedy. So perhaps the best way to describe Little Darlings is to say that it’s not nearly as offensive as it could have been, given the confluence of juvenile actors and salacious subject matter. Set at a typical American summer camp for girls, the film revolves around the tense relationship between Angel (Kristy McNichol), the chain-smoking tomboy daughter of a promiscuous single mother, and Ferris (Tatum O’Neal), the naïve and pretentious daughter of a wealthy couple undergoing a separation as a prelude to divorce. The instant the young ladies meet each other on the bus headed for camp, they hate each other. Upon their arrival in the woods, both girls inadvertently reveal to bitchy beauty Cinder (Krista Errickson) that they’re virgins, so Cinder takes bets on whether Angel or Ferris will be the first to have sex over the course of the summer.
Angel happens upon Randy (Matt Dillon), a tough kid attending a nearby boy’s camp, while Ferris sets her sights on Gary (Armand Assante), a grown-up counselor at the girls’ camp. The picture unfolds in a lighthearted manner, with brightly lit scenes set to a thumping pop soundtrack featuring tunes by Blondie and the Cars (among other Top 40 acts of the era) until the climactic scene when one of the girls consummates her flirtation with the man she’s chosen. That sequence is handled with restraint and even a kind of unvarnished reverence, thereby elevating the rest of the otherwise pedestrian movie by association. McNichol, who gained fame on the ’70s TV series Family, and O’Neal, who earned an Oscar for her screen debut in Paper Moon (1973), work on different levels—McNichols’ performance is raw and vulnerable, whereas O’Neal plays a amiable caricature. Assante mostly seems as if he’s struggling to avoid looking embarrassed, and Dillon exhibits the brooding quality that made him a star just a few years later, complementing the fine work he does in another 1980 release, My Bodyguard.
Little Darlings: FUNKY