Eighteen is one of those movies that wants to say something about every single provocative subject and also mean something to everyone. There's no doubt the film is an accomplished effort, but director Richard Bell packs so much into his one hour, forty-five minute film that the result is a cinematic experience that sort of over extends itself.
Consequently, Eighteen is all over the place, switching backwards and forwards in time and utilizing parallel narratives, which look like they could perhaps have come from two separate movies. Social comment is all very well, but stories that deal with multiple narratives - unless done well - risk becoming a clutter of straying threads.
In this film we have daddy/son incest, abortion issues, male prostitution, suicide, male rape, stabbings, and gun shot wounds... and the list goes positively on. Pip Anders (Paul Anthony) is a street kid, a runaway from a prominent upper middle class family who is angry with his father over the loss of his older brother who died in a violent car accident.
On his eighteenth birthday he receives a tape from his grandfather (Sir Ian McKellan doing voice over) about the day he turned eighteen. Apparently granddaddy was fleeing German forces through the woods of France with a dying comrade who had suffered a fateful gunshot wound (although it's never made actually clear where they are actually going).
Pip is also suffering, running away from his family and his demons when he meets Clark (Clarence Sponagle) a gay hustler. The two form an uneasy friendship that is eventually tempered by Pip's affair with Jenny (Carly Pope). Meanwhile, Father Chris (Alan Cumming) takes pity on Pip and invites him home where he learns the terrible secret of Pip's past.
But it doesn't stop there! Pip falls in love with Jenny, Clark falls for a juvenile gas station clerk, they both meet head-on their daddy issues, and in flashback we see a World War II drama unfold in the woods of France. There's love, loyalty, sex - both gay and straight - death, passion, betrayal and attempted murder, and of course, Ian McKellan, the constant conduit, heard through a Walkman as Pip attempts to draw parallels with his own life.
Eighteen has some good moments, but so often it falls into uncomfortable histrionics. The acting is mostly melodramatic and a lot of the situations just don't ring true. The strength of the movie, however, is Cumming, who does a lovely understated turn as Father Chris, but apart from him, the rest of the cast come across as rather forced.
The mistreatment of power sexually by authority figures is obviously the theme of the film, but the impact of this gets lost amidst all the dramatics, wailing and the head banging. The World War II flashbacks are a bit of a stretch to tie in to the modern story, with the connection between them not always made that clear.
It's as though Bell is being overly ambitious; he would have been better to either stick to the modern story, or get more financing and make a more fully realized and lavish period piece. Obviously, both son and granddad have to come to terms with their lives and their insecurities, and in particular their guilt and anger - it's all a part of their journey. In the process, however, most viewers will probably be turned off and breath a sigh of relief that there won't be any more melodrama to sit through. Mike Leonard July 06.