A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the final message of Memories of a Teenager (Yo, Adolescente) is that friends and families should let the teenagers in their lives know that they care, with the hope that teen suicides can be prevented. Themes such as sexual awakening, drug use, and self harm make this material best suited to older teens. This Argentinian 2019 drama (in Spanish with English subtitles) features an introspective 16-year-old boy who lost his best friend to suicide. The plot focuses more on his sexual awakening and his contemplation of possible bisexuality than on his grief, but when (spoiler alert) he surprisingly commits suicide himself, the film retrospectively seems to suggest more could have been done to help the protagonist. There's no nudity, but a youth has sex with a male friend as well as a female friend. The girl gets pregnant and it's suggested she's had an abortion. Teens drink, smoke cigarettes, try to take acid and smoke marijuana, some to excess. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "d--k," "ass," "pee," "jerk-off," "sissy," "homo," "f-ggot," "virgin," "horny," and "moron."
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What's the story?
In MEMORIES OF A TEENAGER, Zabo, also known as Nico and Nicolas (Renata Quattordio), is a sensitive 16-year-old whose gay best friend Pol (Tomas Aguero) killed himself over the summer. Zabo begins recording his thoughts on his computer, supposedly the truth about his inner life, in a voice that recalls Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, but his observations betray a lack of self awareness. He yearns for honesty and openness but he keeps secrets of his own. He takes comfort in his parents' presence but shares nothing with them. His present-day life and flashbacks accompany his writing, and we learn that he's struggling with sexual identity. Several of his male friends have expressed their love to him, and he isn't sure whether their feelings are brotherly or sexual. He has sex with Ramiro (Jeronimo Bosia), but is certain he's not in love with him. At the same time, he's having sex with Tina (Malena Narvay), a college girl who he falls for hard, even though she has a boyfriend. She rejects his love and soon after learns she's pregnant, unsure who the father is. We see everything through Zabo's eyes, but his vision proves unreliable. He writes that he doesn't make friends easily, but his life is filled with social interactions, dance parties, drinking, smoking, and sex, with a steady core of friends. This contradiction signals to us that his observations may not be clear or realistic, so when he abruptly kills himself at the film's end, it feels like both a surprise and an indication that he hasn't been fully honest with either himself or us.
Is it any good?
Memories of a Teenager has many laudable qualities, but the filmmaker doesn't make the case strongly enough for us to believe that the boy we see through every minute of this this film is suicidal. There's no emotional or logical preparation for the abrupt and seemingly arbitrary ending to a young promising life. Add to that the fact that 22-year-old Quattordio plays a 16-year-old, and the actor's physical maturity undermines his believability as a teen. Tone shifts also undermine the project. When Zabo first starts writing, animated outlines appear around his face and hands, indicating we're in a a world of whimsy, perhaps even fantasy, a feeling that's upended as the action proceeds. Zabo complains about teen stereotypes and then embodies most of them. "Teens appreciate nothing," he writes as he ignores his parents' concern for him. "We take any drug we can get," he writes sarcastically, then gathers with friends to drink to unconsciousness and get high. He writes his "blog" so others might not feel alone, but he doesn't publish it. Even when the film depicts his obliviousness, it never presents him as despairing or headed for suicide. Perhaps the message is that seemingly well-adjusted kids are just as likely to kill themselves as depressed ones.
But nothing in the 97 minutes here indicates inevitability. The parents feel guilty for missing the "signs," but what were the signs? In an effort to save others from his pain, the dad writes that friends and family should give kids hugs, and make sure teens don't feel alone. That, of course, is good advice for all of us. Any film calling attention to the tragedy of teen suicide deserves attention, but this one certainly has flaws.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea that depression and suicidal thoughts can be prevented if parents and friends are alert to the threat. What do you think Zabo's friends and family could have done to help him that they didn't do?
Zabo says "suicide is contagious." What do you think he means by that?
Do you think difficult romantic relationships contributed to Zabo's decision to take his life? Why or why not?
What should you do if you or someone you know is considering suicide?
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