(director: Jean-Pierre Améris; screenwriter: Alain Layrac; cinematographer: Yves Vandermeeren; editor: Martine Giordano; music: Lene Marlin/Giya Kanchell; cast: Maud Forget (Delphine Vitrac), Lou Doillon (Olivia), Robinson Stévenin (Laurent), Cyril Cagnat (Justin), Delphine Rich (Claire Vitrac), François Berléand (Rene Vitrac), Micheline Presle (Grandmother), Ariane Ascaride (Olivia’s mother), Maxime Mansion (Alain); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Philippe Godeau/Alain Sarde; Wellspring; 1999-France, in French with English subtitles)

Bad Company is good company only when it is most natural.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This French soap opera teenager romance film is dead serious about the pickle it places its teenage heroine in, but her predicament is only used to make some points about the power of misplaced love and the drawbacks to having insecurity problems. Bad Company is good company only when it is most natural, showing the middle-class everyday French city life at home and in school. Director Jean-Pierre Améris and screenwriter Alain Layrac show a lot of compassion and knowledge for how troubling things can be for teens and how vulnerable they can be in the hands of users without a conscience, but don’t come up with much that is relevant to say. That this quest for an unlikely love leads to the heroine being sexually degraded and humiliated in front of her peers and family, makes for a disturbing film. It is especially disturbing because the girl is a minor and has given no clues beforehand that she is capable of making such a bad decision.

Delphine Vitrac (Maud Forget) is a frightened square and plain-looking 14-year-old ensconced comfortably but unhappily into middle-class life in an unnamed fairly large city (Grenoble was where it was shot). Her pop is a doctor and her caring mom runs an art gallery. Underneath the timid nice girl’s public persona there lurks a restless beast, who if given the opportunity will let the monster hiding inside out of the box. Delphine gets this chance when she befriends a new student in her class after the summer break, the statuesque Olivia (Lou Doillon), who has a bitchy attitude and is dressed as a wannabe Spice Girl in gold hair-dreadlocks. Olivia is a 16-year-old tough cookie who lives with her sullen mom and is supported by her perplexed factory owner Paris living father. Dad dumped Olivia’s night job working mom and has a new family in Paris, as Olivia bad mouths both parents and buries her anger in pleasant memories of her older art student sis who committed suicide by jumping off the roof of their tall apartment building.

The girls determine that they are soulmates and hang out together even though Olivia is sexually experienced and wise to the street scene while wide-eyed Delphine has never even been kissed, though she has the gentle film buff nerd Justin taking her on movie dates. But he’s too shy to tell her how he feels. In any case, Justin doesn’t appeal to her except in a brotherly way. The better question might be what does Justin see in her, as she seems empty and will be satisfied watching Van Damme films while he prefers Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Now to me, that’s a real clash!

In one afternoon get together, Olivia takes Delphine shopping and stealing. At night she takes her to the club, where Delphine dances for the first time with a charmer named Laurent (Robinson Stévenin). He kisses her on the dance floor only to get his equally as obnoxious girlfriend Agnes jealous, as she just ditched him for another. This gesture works and the little shit leaves Delphine hanging as Agnes returns, but Delphine is so blind that she thinks she’s in love with this troublesome lad. Meanwhile Olivia has hooked up with Laurent’s decent but not too bright auto mechanic friend Alain and sex becomes the staple of their dates. But this is not a story about the morally loose Olivia influencing Delphine to become bad, as it is a story about Delphine’s poor self-image and lack of judgment leading her down a dark road.

Attending a New Year’s Eve party, trendy Olivia dresses Delphine in her punk-style with high heels and lamé in her hair. At the party the unstable Laurent reunites with Delphine and she soon has sex with him, which she doesn’t enjoy but is glad that it satisfies him. The emotionally disturbed Laurent dreams of finding happiness in Bob Marley country and plans to go there with Alain during the summer. Delphine doesn’t mean much to him while she on the other hand offers him her unconditional love, except she won’t suck him off. The manipulative Laurent can’t raise enough money to fund his Jamaican escape and gets the reluctant Alain to go along with his plan to pimp off their girls to get the plane fare. Laurent boldly asks the girls to give a few months of blowjobs in the park toilet to the paying horny male high school students in order to finance the trip, and assures them that they also can come along. Olivia is aghast, but agrees to do it only because Delphine says she wants to in order to show her love. Delphine just came from her grandmother’s country house and misinterprets what granny said about love.

I thought this story couldn’t be fiction because it was too unbelievable to be invented. Sure enough there was such a police case that inspired this film. But because it’s possible doesn’t make it dramatically effective. It instead seemed like a story one would read in a newspaper and the film’s evenhanded take on the morally troubling story is more journalistic than dramatic. Though the viewer is apt to be sickened over this incident, the girls seem incapable of getting a real grip on things and seem to be stuck believing in their fantasy created world and not quite grasping how they damaged their psyche. Somehow Bad Company never showed me more than girls who lacked either intelligence or dignity. Therefore what is there to say about such missing inner ingredients except, perhaps, get me to a shrink in time!