16 to Life

In an effort to kill preordained gender roles, movies have featured more and more independent, intelligent and witty female leads (many of them younger, think Emma Stone), but they always include one stereotypical feature, or “dream” if you will: the desire for a real love that overtakes their emotions. 16 to Life throws that last feature at you for about eighty-five minutes.


Kate (Hallee Hirsh) works at an ice cream stand on the shores of the Mississippi river with her friend, Darby (Mandy Musgrave), the introverted Rene (Shiloh Fernandez), the shocking, yet sweet Russian, Tatiana (Emily Foxler) and the troubled owner/matriarch, Louise (Theresa Russell). 16 chronicles Kate’s sixteenth birthday and the fact that she has yet to be kissed. As an extremely well read girl, Kate has a realistic view of life, but a view of love worthy of Disney princess films. Her close friend, yet personality opposite, Darby is considering losing her virginity that night because she is “just so in love”. Meanwhile Louise is spewing her wisdom onto her semi-daughters trying to help usher them into womanhood and avoid the mistakes she made in her past. By now, you are sensing a theme of unoriginal plot lines, which I can assure you never end, and are coupled with attempts at artistic filmmaking and indie charm.

Almost the entire film happens within the ice cream shop and covers the interactions between the employees and their customers. Surprisingly, this style works excellently. The flow of customers keeps the film moving along (for a while) at a solid pace, adding stories and wrinkles to the characters. Unfortunately, these wrinkles never stop coming. Typically we will know all we need to about each character by the time the film is reaching its climax and coming to a close. 16 finds a way to avoid this and keeps adding and adding, which is why I think 16 could have been a good idea for a television show/miniseries where each character arc has the opportunity to be fully played out.

We are constantly learning more about Darby, Tatiana, Rene, Louise, Kate’s friend Ronald, her sister, her love interest Carson, etc.  The side characters are generally uninteresting (especially Kate’s encounters with strong, silent and mysterious Carson). Rene and Tatiana, weird as they may be, end up being the most entertaining. A cornucopia of important characters works well with ensemble casts, but not when the film is a small budget, coming of age tale.

There is a combination narration (narrator and Kate) that is entertaining in the opening sequence, disappears, and reappears at the closing credits. The narration is clever and opens the movie well with succinct descriptions of Kate’s personality and hobbies, but is underused. Her love of reading is mentioned throughout and shown by cutaway scenes to the Chinese rebellion, about which she is reading and lecturing Darby or whoever will listen. These are largely unnecessary scenes that, while mildly entertaining, seem to just be time filling.

For a movie that starts relatively strong, 16 doesn’t maintain its entertainment level. After about an hour, disinterest begins to set in and you find yourself watching the clock for the end. 16 could be classified as close to good, but not quite up to its potential.

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