It’s summertime in the 70s and Francis is a young girls, hanging out with her best friends Rosie and Jan and dreaming of her first kiss from the coolest boys in 7th grade.
She and her friends manage to make a connection with the boys at the local pool. Together they concoct a plan for a party, where they plan to make out with the boys. But despite their best (and most awkward) efforts, things go awry, forcing the girls to confront their lack of experience.
Directed by Charlotte Guerry and written by Ariana Coyle and Kirsten Walz, this short coming-of-age comedy has a sweetly nostalgic spirit of summertime fun and eager adolescence. But it’s truly in the zone when it explores the gap between childhood and adulthood, mining humor and insight in observing how kids interpret the world and mores of grownups — and their hilarious attempts to replicate them.
Francis’s character and world are deftly laid out in the storytelling, capturing a just-short-of-13-year-old girl experimenting with Bowie glitter eye makeup and sneaking cigarettes. Her two best friends are opposites in their eagerness to grow up: one is curious about boys and claims a higher level of experience than her friends, while the other doesn’t want a boy anywhere near her face. Francis is in the middle: she’d like a kiss but she’s still playing at being a girl.
There’s a nostalgic, playful feel to the colorful visuals and the clever, cheeky editing style, full of the split screens that were so popular in 70s and early 80s television comedies. But while there’s an affection for the artifacts of the age — a phone chat line provides a key plot point, for example — the emotional terrain is universal, as the girls attempt to craft more adult experienced selves.
Actors Xochitl Gomez, Abigayle Lenzinger and Helena Mulholland play the trio of friends, forming a believable bond and capturing the unique tenor of pre-teen anxiety and excitement. The writing plays up their differences, but the performances collectively balance bravado, curiosity and insecurity. Gomez reveals a genuine vulnerability on the eve of the party (and her potential first kiss), and asks their babysitter — the older, cooler and more popular Robin — for some reassurance and guidance on setting the mood to ensure success. Robin tries her best to boost Francis’s confidence in herself but then gives her simple advice, like playing a romantic movie. But despite Robin’s well-intended advice, the party takes an awkward turn, cresting into genuine (and hilarious) mortification for everyone involved.
Clever, charming and great fun, “Boob Sweat” flirts with the grown-up terrain of sexuality, taking advantage of the perhaps more lax standards of the 70s and 80s to get its young characters in semi-sticky situations. The comedy and insight come from how these girls (and boys) are trying on identities of grown-ups, “performing” gender norms drawn from observations of the world around them and the experiences of their parents.
These observations are framed in the pitter-patter of comedy one-liners, but they allude to a more cynical, thornier take on love, sex and romance. But these kinds of shadows are just part of the background noise in the bouncy pop song that is Francis’s coming-of-age so far. Right now, she learns to stay content just where she is, enjoying her small steps towards adulthood as the sweet triumphs they are.