I haven’t seen many films from Ginger Rogers’ and Fred Astaire’s filmography. Despite this, I joined the third Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon, in the hopes of expanding my cinematic horizons! Because I figured other participants would cover Ginger’s musicals, I chose one of her movies that wasn’t a part of the musical genre. As the title says, I’ll be reviewing Teenage Rebel! The aftermath of a divorce/custody battle is rarely explored in film. This is what made me take notice of this particular title. What I also thought was interesting was how this story discussed the subject of divorce during a time when the concept was not as talked about as it is today. While I have reviewed the 1939 movie, In Name Only, that film revolved around the divorce itself and what led up to it. Now, let us begin part one of my Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire Double Feature!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Ginger Rogers is an actress from what would be considered the “Golden Era” of Hollywood. This particular period in time is often depicted with a sense of glamour. Because of this, Ginger carried herself in Teenage Rebel with that same sense of glamour I just brought up. Not only that, her emotionality really shined through in her role as Nancy Fallon! Some of her best scenes featured her interacting with Dorothy/Dodie. Both actresses go toe-to-toe with each other, acting-wise, and make their characters feel believable and genuine. Out of context, Dorothy/Dodie could be written off as a spoiled brat. But Betty Lou Keim’s performance, plus the aftermath of the divorce, makes the audience feel bad for Dorothy/Dodie. While Betty’s portrayal is consistent, she is given enough flexibility to add emotion. This highlights the idea that Dorothy/Dodie is simply human, with thoughts and feelings that need to be expressed. Warren Berlinger portrays Dick, one of the Fallon’s next-door neighbors. What I liked about his performance is how animated it is. This animation livened Warren’s portrayal without coming across as over-the-top. Instead, it gave him a wide range of emotions to work with. His conversation with his family about his long distance girlfriend is a perfect example of this.
The use of symbolism: One night, as a literal storm is brewing in the neighborhood, Nancy finds Dorothy/Dodie sitting outside by herself. The wind outside is strong and doesn’t have any plans to calm down. During their conversation, the sound of cracking lightening can be heard in the background. When Dorothy/Dodie and Nancy return to the house, rain starts to fall. These elements represented the personal turmoil taking place between mother and daughter.
The messages and themes: In films where younger characters are the center of the story, there is always a place for meaningful messages and themes. This is certainly the case for Teenage Rebel. One of the notable themes of this movie is having compassion for others. No matter how closed-off Dorothy/Dodie was, Nancy never gave up on her daughter. Even though Nancy does express feelings of frustration and stress, she always tried her best to make Dorothy/Dodie feel welcome and loved. Even Dick and his sister, Jane, show compassion for Dorothy/Dodie. They invite her to teenage functions like dances and a local car race. Because of the time they spend with her, Dorothy/Dodie allows herself to open her heart to others. The reason why Dorothy/Dodie distances herself from people is because she has lost her trust in them due to the divorce. As the story progresses, Dorothy/Dodie changes her life around. In one scene, Nancy gives her daughter a lecture about how she needs to stop living in isolation. That speech and the overall message of opening your heart comes across in this story as genuine.
What I didn’t like about the film:
A very misleading title: This film is called Teenage Rebel. Paired with the quotes on the movie’s poster, the film is advertised as a cautionary tale about teenagers going “over the edge”. However, none of the teens in this story rebel or misbehave. Even when there is a car race, the event itself appears to be well organized and legal. While Dorothy/Dodie has a bad attitude and runs away from home, she does these things to 1.) put on a brave face to protect her true feelings and 2.) find some alone time to get away from the tension between her and her mother. The title and marketing built this movie up to be something it wasn’t.
The character of Larry: Larry Fallon, portrayed by Rusty Swope, is Nancy and Jay’s son. He had some funny lines in this movie, such as when he said “a man” after Dorothy/Dodie asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. However, after a while, Larry kind of overstays his welcome. I don’t fault Rusty for this, as there was only so much he could do for an actor of his age. This specific flaw is the result of the screenwriting. Larry doesn’t have much to do in the overall story. In fact, he has little to no significance within the main plot. Prior to watching Teenage Rebel, I was expecting to see an interesting dynamic between half-siblings who didn’t grow up together. But, in reality, Dorothy/Dodie and Larry only interacted once. Either Rusty needed more material to work with or the character should have been written out of the movie completely.
An abrupt transformation: When Dorothy/Dodie is introduced in the film, she carries herself with a chip on her shoulder. It gets to the point where she and her mother have an emotionally fueled, tension filled conversation. As I mentioned earlier, Dorothy/Dodie’s attitude was caused by an ugly divorce with an even uglier custody battle. After the aforementioned conversation between Dorothy/Dodie and Nancy, Dorothy/Dodie runs away, where Dick finds her and takes her to a local soda shop. When she returns home, she acts nice toward her mother, like their previous conversation never happened. Similar to what I said about Larry, this flaw was the result of the screenwriting. This change in character should have been a consistent progression throughout the film as a whole.
My overall impression:
Teenage Rebel is an ok film. However, its dishonest title and poster doesn’t help its case. In a time when teen centered films were on the rise, the studio wanted to capitalize on that. While a significant part of this story focused on a teenage perspective, it was marketed as something different than what it honestly was. Instead of selling the movie as a meaningful drama exploring the aftermath of divorce, they decided to make the film sound like it was about misbehaving youngsters, despite never being found in the story. Even though it seems like the creative team had their hearts in the right place, I was not a fan of how the story was more “slice of life” than I had wanted. I don’t find these types of stories intriguing, but I appreciate Teenage Rebel’s incorporation of its messages and themes. If you want to watch a teen movie with similar ideas, I’d recommend The Boy Who Could Fly. Not only does it emphasize showing compassion to others, but it’s a much stronger film.
Overall score: 6.3 out of 10
Have you seen Ginger Rogers’ movies? Which film about divorce would you recommend? Tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!