Memories of a Teenager (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★
Lucas Santa Ana’s “Memories of a Teenager” is the long-lost brother of Greg Berlanti’s “Love Simon” from Argentina. Both movies place their central character smack dab in the middle of the pandemonium that is being a high school student and he, undergoing a barrage of sexual confusion and awakening, must face a revolving door of personalities. Both works, too, grapple with feelings like intense loneliness, despite a person being surrounded by family or friends, and the protagonist employs writing as a way of expression or escape. Although Berlanti’s picture is stronger as a whole, certainly more optimistic, Santa Ana’s work offers a rawness and roughness about it that the other lacks. There is a story worth seeing here, but I wished it did not drop the ball during the last five minutes.
Most curious about the film is its willingness to show sexual fluidity in a way divorced from shame and melodrama. If a character subscribes to a label, then great. If he or she doesn’t, not a big deal. What matters more is that we are allowed to observe these young people simply being precisely because they allow each other to be. Some expected elements are nowhere to be found: bullying rooted in homosexual fears, having to come out of the closet at the prom or some silly event, nor are parents shown being livid for having found out their son or daughter’s “huge-ass secret.” We get an impression that these are modern teenagers living in modern times, and they are simply passing through. There’s something refreshing about that.
Our protagonist is named Zabo (Renato Quattordio) who has found a great ally in Pol (Tomás Agüero), an out gay teenager who shares Zabo’s love for music. But we learn in the opening minutes that Pol has committed suicide around the same time a nightclub fire killed a number of their fellow students. When you’re a teenager life tends to move forward in a blink of an eye at times. And so Zabo, who is friendly, charming, and popular with both the girls and the boys, failed to find the time to mourn and truly understand what his relationship with Pol actually meant to him. And if you think it is solely because of Zabo’s blossoming sexuality, this is evidence of how American teen-centric pictures have inundated us with easily definable conflicts that must be ironed out or resolved before the end credits. This one proves to have lasting scars.
We follow Zabo in search of… something. For a while we can only surmise what it is. There is irony in the fact that the more we spend time with Zabo and his overwhelming confusion, the more we have idea of what it might be that he wants. There is Maria (Agustina Cabo) whom Zabo thinks is just perfect for him because they are so alike. She has great hair, expressive eyes, and a confidence about her. There is a smiley brute named Ramiro (Jerónimo Bosia) who fits every personality trait that Zabo looks for in a person. There is also Tina (Malena Narvay) who is funny and exciting but has a boyfriend. And then there is Tomás (Thomas Lepera), one of Zabo’s best friends, who is able to see through the many distractions that Zabo creates in order to make others—and himself—believe that everything is all right. And no, this is not a love story in which Zabo gets to choose a person that will “complete him” or something absurd like that.
And so it hurts to say that the final five minutes is preachy and in need of a complete rewrite. Without giving anything away, the resolution simply does not fit what has been established prior: that Zabo is both sensitive and a fighter, that teenagers are more resilient than what society gives them credit for, that their lives can be messy even though they are capable of smart choices. Sometimes the correct choice is to end a story without a massage. My mouth was agape because of how it badly dropped the ball. There is a perfect moment in which it could have ended. But it kept going just to fall off a cliff.