Lenny’s parents send him to Queens to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle.
Just Looking is both a nostalgic look back at life in the 1950s and an unusually frank view of how sex was perceived then through the eyes of a 13-year-old kid just experiencing puberty. Lenny (Ryan Merriman) is a sex-obsessed Jewish kid from the Bronx, New York who doesn’t get along with his new step father (Rich Licata), an overweight, somewhat overbearing kosher butcher. School is letting out for the summer, and Lenny’s main goal in life is to see a couple having sex. Although he tries to observe his parents “doing it”, he fails when his mother Sylvia (Patti LuPone) hears a noise at the door. At the dinner table, he discovers that his parents have arranged with his Aunt Norma (Ilana Levine) and Uncle Phil (Peter Onorati) for Lenny to spend the summer with them in Queens. Lenny is opposed at first but reluctantly agrees to go when his mom tells him that it is important for him to go and things will be better for him at home when he returns in the fall. Besides, he figures that he could probably meet his goal because Norma and Phil have just married in the last year. Unfortunately for Lenny, when they show up to take him to Queens, Norma is very pregnant and he can’t even take his bicycle along because Phil thinks it will scratch up his new car. But Phil is good at breaking the ice with Lenny and things start to pick up when he meets their next door neighbor, John (Joey Franquinha), who is Lenny’s age and works for Phil at his Italian delicatessen.
Lenny and his cousin John get to know each other.
The two make friends quickly, and when Lenny asks what there is to do in Queens, John tells him that they have a “Sex Club”, which includes Alice Moran (Amy Braverman) and Barbara Sabatini (Allie Spiro Winn). The Sex Club members like to talk about sex although they don’t actually do it because they are all Catholic. The girls are especially well-informed about things and the local gossip (Alice’s mother runs the local beauty parlor) and Lenny is blown away by all of the things he learns just in their first meeting. Things in the club really get going when Barbara discovers a sexually explicit comic book in her dad’s dresser drawer. But an even better discovery is another neighbor, Hedy Collier (Gretchen Mol) a former lingerie model, who has the boys deliver groceries to her house. The gossip around town is that Hedy is sexually active, and now Lenny has a plan — watch Hedy in the act with her boy friend. Lenny tells Phil and Norma that he is interested in bird watching, but its just a cover for his obsession with watching Hedy. Although he is discovered spying on Hedy by his stepfather during a visit, his stepfather doesn’t rat him out, even though his stepfather gets hit by her boyfriend. When Hedy goes away for a couple of weeks, she asks Lenny to water her plants and watch her place, and Lenny discovers that he really has an affection for her and can’t wait for her to get back. When Hedy and her boy friend break up, Lenny and Hedy have a real conversation for the first time, which is one of the great scenes in the film. Lenny’s infatuation continues to grow, but ironically subsequent events cause Lenny to find out some real facts of life as it affects him and his family. There are some interesting surprises as the story works to its conclusion and you will especially like the way that the characters interact.
The “Sex Club” gets together.
Just Looking sounds like it is going to be a voyeuristic over-the-edge type of coming of age film, but instead director Jason Alexander turns it into one of the better films in this genre. The whole fifties aura is very well staged and the characters seem very believable for this era, because Marshall Karp’s script doesn’t have them come across as one-dimensional. Ryan Merriman and Amu Braverman give especially fine performances that remind us that people in the fifties had depth and emotions just as people in more dynamic times did. Merriman plays his character with such a charming naivety that you don’t feel his sexual curiosity is obsessive or unusual, which it very well could have been in the wrong hands. Braverman’s Alice is both articulate and astonishingly frank what she knows, and it is refreshingly different from the way adolescent roles for girls are usually presented in this genre. As the story develops you really find yourself hoping that they will stop talking about sex and give each other a kiss. Gretchen Mol’s performance as the sex pot Hedy is played with a sweet vulnerability, especially in the way that she interacts with the boys and men in the film, and when when reveals to Lenny how she comes from a broken home. Enjoy this film. It does have some sexual content, but nothing is particularly shocking and everything is done in a gentle manner that doesn’t offend. Just Looking is filled with a lot of nice people that you would want as friends and neighbors. It’s not that often that this kind of material comes across as both entertaining and full of heart.
Lenny runs over to Hedy’s house in the pouring rain.
Lenny walks by the fire hydrant in his black high top chucks.
Ryan Merriman (Lenny) and Joey Franquinha (John) both wear black high top chucks in most of their scenes. The best scene is where Lenny is dancing around with joy after having his first real conversation with Hedy.
Lenny dances with glee after his conversation with Hedy.
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