Is there a point to “Liza, Liza, Skies are Grey,” a coming-of-age tale that trots out every 1960s trope and cliche and treats each as if it’s a new discovery?
The picture takes its title from a song Al Jolson made famous in the ’20s, its story beats from every “road” picture since “The Odyssey” and its cast from the legions of Pretty Young Things gathered in Los Angeles at the Hotel “Haven’t Made it Yet.”
And it’s basically just a random collection of cliches filtered through the movies its veteran documentary producer-director seems to have half-forgotten.
Here I was, all set to ridicule this callow, puerile take on romance amidst the turmoil of the era and attribute it to some first-time filmmaker who wouldn’t know any better, and there’s Terry Sanders credited as writer-director. He’s 85, which explains the Jolson reference. His tin-eared take on an era he should remember suggests he was too old to get what was going on then.
Mikey Madison is the title character, a 16 year-old who spends the summer of ’66 having nightmares about her father’s suicide, getting hit-on by mom’s creepy swinger boyfriend, and letting the Vietnam War coverage and Civil Rights struggle she hears on the news fly over her head.
She seems almost oblivious to war, to The Bomb, to the fact that the family housekeeper is black, and dares not broach that subject or any other with her. After all, one of her best friends (Kwame Boateng) is black. She needn’t worry over anything serious.
After conferring with her sexually experienced tutor — “So, you’ve been to bed with a lot of men?” — she decides to tell her casual beau (Sean H. Scully) “I want to be the first.” So they set off on his Triumph on a blue highway adventure up the coast, brawling with California rednecks, quarreling with seedy motel clerks and partying with tripping hippies.
There’s nothing sexy or even particularly sexual about “Liza,” no heat — even casual — to Madison and Scully’s pairing.
“Don’t make me pregnant!”
Which is why the motorcycle gets star billing.
Characters blurt out random cliches, with no motivation or warning. Mom (Kristin Minter) fumes about Liza “hating” her and “judging” her. Mom’s boyfriend (John-Paul Lavoisier) lures Liza with “See my framed lithographs” as bait.
The upshot of which is a hard life lesson for filmmakers aged 15, 25 or 85. Just because you have the money and wherewithal to get a movie made doesn’t mean you should.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, violence
Cast: Mikey Madison, Sean H. Scully
Credits: Written and directed by Terry Sanders. An Ocean Releasing film.
Running time: 1:25