This movie is one of those hidden gems from the 1970s that not a lot of people know about. This is due in no small part to a lack of availability on Home Video since the film's release. Sure, it came out on VHS, but never hit DVD. It popped up on Netflix for a time some years ago, but I feel like that was an instance of too little too late as so few people had any inclination as to what this movie is. What it is is a heartfelt and touching drama about two youngsters in New York City, trying to figure things out for themselves. They are trying to figure out their parents first of all. The two kids - a girl and a boy (played by Trini Alvarado and Jeremy Levy) - both come from broken homes. Franny (the girl) has discovered that her parents are headed for divorce and that her dad (John Lithgow) hasn't been living in their apartment, but instead has sneaking home in the mornings to pretend like he's getting up with her mom and saying good morning to her. It's a thoughtful effort, but is more perplexing than anything to Franny until she figures out what is actually happening. Jeremy (the boy) splits time with his mom and her psychiatrist husband (Paul Dooley) and his jet-setting, commercial directing father (Terry Kiser from WEEKEND AT BERNIES). Franny hits it off with "new kid" Jeremy and they end up hanging out at his dad's posh apartment. It's one of those crazy 70s New York pads, in this case, decked out with the latest gadgets but more importantly - featuring a nearly rainforest like setup as the centerpiece (complete with exotic birds). Franny sees it as a wondrous place - the incarnation of a utopian paradise that she's had in her head for a long time and even has a special name for. Jeremy has come along at just the right time too as he has been dealing with divorced life for a while and Franny is just about to enter into it. The two twelve-year olds quickly form a special bond and Jeremy invites Franny to sleep over at his dad's place. After some hustling of both their parents, the kids end up spending the evening together and just enjoying each other's company. There's more to this tale than that, but it's really one of those 70s sleepers that is more about character than anything else. The movie was directed by Robert M. Young (SHORT EYES, ONE-TRICK PONY, DOMINICK & EUGENE) and produced by Robert Altman. I love Altman of course, but I'm also a big fan of the films he produced in the 1970s. He did a few with Alan Rudoplh and those are excellent, but RICH KIDS has a bit of a different feeling from those. While Rudolph's films are in some ways quite similar to Altman in terms of their style and approach, Young establishes a different feeling for this movie. It's an ensemble production and in that way correlative to Altman, but there's not much in the way of overlapping dialogue and some of the other Altman signatures here. That said, it is an adult drama with kids at the center of it and that has become increasingly less common since the 70s. Both the kids are excellent and instill Franny and Jeremy with a nearly precocious intelligence that could border on obnoxious if not properly maintained. It helps that their folks are played with an equal intelligence as well as a clear compassion for their children despite being flawed humans themselves. It's a rare movie that can balance humor and bittersweetness in the way that RICH KIDS does. The ending does not offer any resolute happily ever solutions, but rather shows the kids as coping and trying to be mature about what they are going through. This film also reminds me that I would have loved to have seen Trini Alvarado in more movies as her work here and in the cult favorite TIMES SQUARE (which could really use a Blu-ray release too by the way) is quite memorable and she brings a carries a certain realistic and emotional quality into her performances that I find quite compelling.
I am truly delighted that this movie is finally available on Home Video again for adventurous cinephiles to see it for the first time. I also have a great deal of affection for the closing song (below), which I put onto a mixtape once (with the audio recorded straight off my VHS tape):
RICH KIDS can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
FRENCH POSTCARDS (1979; WILLARD HUYCK)
This is another movie somewhat obscured by Home Video releases. In the case of FRENCH POSTCARDS, it has been on DVD (from Legend films back in 2008), but this Blu-ray marks a return to the film's original soundtrack - which has been restored to it's fully glory after some rescored music was included in the previous DVD release. Music rescoring is an issue that even many cinpehiles may be unaware of. Many films of a certain period (usually from the 1970s or early 1980s) came to Home Video with some of the songs that were part of their original soundtracks replaced with new music. This was typically due to the music not having been licensed for Home Video and the studios being too cheap to pony up the cash to pay for it. John Carpenter's THE THING features Stevie Wonder's amazing song "Superstition" in it's current releases, but there were versions of the movie on Home Video that had that song replaced. Same thing happened with movies like NIGHTHAWKS and BABY IT'S YOU. It happened more than a few times with MCA/Universal and Paramount titles and it is a sad thing. I get that the expense to clear the original music can be cost prohibitive, but it does end up detracting from the movie in that it is now not as the director intended. Thankfully, as FRENCH POSTCARDS opens we hear a french version of The Lovin' Spoonful's song "Do You Believe in Magic", which not only sets a buoyant and upbeat mood, but also is a perfect scene-setting tune for this story of some American students spending a year abroad in Paris. Said students - Laura (Blanche Baker), Joel (Miles Chapin) and Alex (David Marshall Grant) - find themselves learning more about love and life than academics as they get caught up with various local guys and gals. Most notably, Joel finds himself falling head over heels for a girl who works in a bookstore. This girl is played by the exquisite Valerie Quennessen, who would become much more well-known for her follow-ups to this movie. She have a big summer in 1982, starring first in CONAN THE BARBARIAN and then another "Americans abroad" coming of age film in Randall Kleiser's SUMMER LOVERS. Quennessen is so beautiful and so perfectly embodying of the exotic French Girl aesthetic that she will capture your affection after seeing her in only the few performances she had in the late 70s and early 80s. She sadly had her life and career cut short by a tragic car accident in 1989 or she would probably have been in more movies. Thankfully, we can enjoy her and Miles Chapin's chemistry in this film and easily see why he is positively mesmerized by her.
The movie was directed by Willard Huyck and written by he and Gloria Katz - the same duo that scripted AMERICAN GRAFFITI (and who also notoriously brought HOWARD THE DUCK to the big screen). I am fascinated by these two in that they did not only some iconic American films - even though HOWARD THE DUCK is not good, it is still and interesting George Lucas-produced flop from the mid-eighties. The Huyck/Katz team also did one of my favorite early 70s horror films in MESSIAH OF EVIL - which is one of the most dreamy and atmospheric portraits of terror from that whole decade. FRENCH POSTCARDS is of course a very light and humorous dramedy and has a good deal in common with AMERICAN GRAFFITI as far as this kind of story goes. I myself have still never been to Paris, so I find this sort of travelogue to be quite fascinating - even if it is a picture of Paris circa 1979. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Debra Winger and Mandy Patinkin among others. I find that this movie and RICH KIDS go together quite well and I'm happy to see them both hit Blu-ray in the same week. Hats off to Olive Films for putting it out with the restored soundtrack too! It gives me some small shred of hope for one of my dream Blu-ray releases - LITTLE DARLINGS (which was another casualty of expensive soundtrack clearance issues).