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Normal Adolescent Behavior: Havoc 2 (A Movie Review)


Starring Amber Tamblyn, Ashton Holmes, Kelli Garner, Daryl Sabara, Hilarie Burton, Edward Tournier, Julia Garro, Stephen Coletti, Ricky Ullman, Scott Coffey and Kelly Lynch.

Screenplay by Beth Schacter.

Directed by Beth Schacter.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 93 minutes. Rated R.

If you are wondering what this movie has to do with the 2005 Anne Hathaway/Bijou Phillips morality tale Havoc – other than the basic theme of beautiful and smart teenagers endangering themselves by indulging in their dark impulses – you're not alone. Well, consider this: in the (extremely brief) theatrical run of Normal Adolescent Behavior, there was absolutely no reference to the original movie in the title. The Havoc 2 moniker has apparently been dumped on a completely unrelated film for the video release, undoubtedly by some cheesy corporate exec who decided the franchise name could only help sales.

Frankly, it's a shame, because Normal Adolescent Behavior (I'm going to skip the Havoc 2 references for the rest of the review, if you don't mind...) is a damned good film that can stand on its own. Honestly, it's a better film than Havoc. And it's not like that film was such a big hit either, so how does the fake suggestion that this is a sequel help things in any way?

Actually, Normal Adolescent Behavior is more reminiscent of a slightly older version of Thirteen, another not-quite-mainstream examination of youth culture spinning out of control.

Also like Thirteen, it features a star-making, awe-inspiringly brave central performance by a spectacular young actress who was best known for a TV role. In Thirteen it was Evan Rachel Wood formerly best known as the anorexic daughter on Once and Again. Here the revelatory performance is supplied by Amber Tamblyn, probably best known as the title character in the too-short-lived series Joan of Arcadia (though she has some films on her resume as well, including Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Grudge 2).

Tamblyn plays Wendy, a slightly dysfunctional, vaguely goth, kind-of outcast but mostly together high school senior. She and her friends have formed an outcast caste, a clique of six students that do everything together – hang out, party, work on student counsel, have sex in various combinations – their high school world has become completely insular.

Billie (Kelli Garner) runs the group, a beautiful, controlling, manipulative but somewhat insecure girl. She is a good friend, but you don't want her to turn on you, because she can be savage.

Everything changes in Wendy's life when a white bread-but-cute guy (Ashton Holmes) moves in next door. At first, she tries to fight her attraction to him, but eventually they get involved and she starts considering life outside of her little circle.

Once Wendy starts to stray, Billie reacts angrily trying to keep things together. In the meantime, Wendy must decide whether this one guy is worth losing her five best friends.

Although Normal Adolescent Behavior works hard to appear edgy and dangerous, in many ways it's kind of old-fashioned. It's not cheerfully amoral like... say, Larry Clark's Kids... and yet it is an intriguing look at the changing morality of today's teenagers. Whether you take it as a cautionary tale or just an anthropological study depends on your place in that world.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2007.

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