The tamest movie ever made about dabbling in LSD and Riot Grrrl culture has to be “Acid Test,” a non-prescription sleep aid of a movie.
Here’s a PG rated treatment of an R-rated subject.
It’s about a high school senior rebelling against her conservative, Harvard alum dad by being hesitant to become a “legacy” applicant to his alma mater. Nothing says “Viva la REVOLUCION!” like attacking the patriarchy on your Harvard admission essay.
Juliana Destefano is Jennifer, wearing the Harvard hoodie and all-in on her father’s (Brian Thornton) dream of her following him into the Ivy League and all the doors it could open for her. We meet her at her pre-admission meeting with a counselor, follow her and her kid brother to the movies with Dad and pick up on the dynamic of her home life. Mom (Mia Ruiz) is Latina, and that’s another leg-up for getting into Harvard.
It’s 1992 in Texas, and her senior year begins with civics class focusing on the election — lots of Clinton, Bush and Perot news coverage in montages — and “Hamlet.” Does Dad, who doesn’t seem all that unreasonable at first, know what he’s doing when he quotes “To thine own self be true” to Jennifer?
It turns out she’s not sure of her life direction. Her BFF Drea (Mai Le) is headed to UT-Austin. That gives Jennifer her first second thoughts. Then they duck out to catch a live show and are introduced to estrogen-powered punk rock and the Riot Grrrrl Manifesto.
“What is a girl?” Jennifer wonders. Here, in Bikini Kill pamphlet form, is an answer.
“BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.”
Next thing we know “straight edge” Drea is debating her supposedly straight edge pal’s decision to accept a tab of acid from the flirtatious hunk Owen (Reece Everett Ryan). Everything that follows — the shift in Jennifer’s music tastes, the decision to lop off her hair, the “SLUT” magic marker tattoos she and Drea don to join the Riot Grrrl scene, sex with Owen — flies in the face of Drea’s seemingly sound advice before that first tab is dropped.
“Rich kids are the worst!”
The club scenes, capturing what I assume are real bands in real performance, are shot and edited so flatly that you’d swear we were seeing a Three Tenors show.
The acid trips are no-budget DIY dull, the “romance” isn’t remotely romantic and the character’s story arc isn’t A-to-Z, passing through a hell of self-discovery. It’s A to B. Yawn.
Writer-director Jennifer Waldo grew up in DC and went to USC, so whatever “memories” she was tapping into for this just-short-of-“true” story (per the opening credits) are seriously mild-mannered.
She must’ve forgotten that “acid” added or not, “Riot Grrrl” is more than a haircut and a bit of magic markering.
Rating: unrated, drug content, profanity
Cast: Juliana Destefano, Brian Thornton, Mia Ruiz, Reece Everett Ryan and Mai Le.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Jennifer Waldo. A Giant Pictures release.
Running time: 1:43