Adam (Adam Mediano) is celebrating his 16th birthday by having sex as much as he can (or so it seems). He also talks about sex, smokes dope and just hangs around with his friends with no apparent direction in his life. Among his friends is his girlfriend (Mercedes Maxwell) and neighbor (Indigo Real), a single mother with a boyfriend who is jail. She thinks a great birthday present for Adam is to have sex with him. Adam comes across as clever but is not into any kind of formal education. His teacher (Lindsay Jones) is pregnant and she also has a birthday gift for him, a birthday spanking. The film is director Larry Clark’s look at adolescent life in a small town in Texas where nudity and sex are common and having a life without direction seems to be the rule.
There is no real storyline, rather the film is made up of a series of happenings that include a somewhat out of touch border patrol officer (Jeremy St. James) interested in Adam’s mom (Mary Farley) and Adam’s birthday celebration.
Adam tends to stay out past curfew and we see that the border patrol agent seems to have it but for him or else just uses his tactics to get Adam’s mother to notice him. Clark evidently likes to make movies about directionless teens and while Adam is the main character, the movie really does not emphasize just one protagonist. The emphasis is not so much on characters as it is on the environment in which it was filmed—an atmosphere where adults are stuck (unhappily) and where youngster’s dream of getting out as soon as they’re able.
We see Adam as an average composite of what the heterosexual rural teen might seem like. His best scenes happen to be shared with Drake, an art intern with privileged pretensions eager to teach Adam and every other “stupid” male why girls should be able to have just as much sex as guys and without the social stigma that follows. As played by Drake Burnette, her character is somewhat wooden yet easily shocked.
Everything comes together in an event that is over the top. When the agent shows his psychological unbalanced self, he becomes violent and bizarre and a dramatic shift moves us toward the finale of the film that is totally strange. But let’s backtrack a moment and see what people in Texas talk about. Mary and Tina discuss in great detail the recent deaths of loved ones, and guitar plucking on the soundtrack makes it all sound melancholy as if to complement their spiritually inclined exchange. Something’s amiss, as we can indisputably hear someone named Rodriga listening along, but Tina and Mary never make eye contact with him, and he is not identified. Eventually, the Marfa girl (Drake Burnette), a visiting nude artist, joins the circle and, after a brief heart to heart with Tina about sonic therapy, starts engaging the previously ignored Rodriga. The sequence splits off into a second movement. This time there’s no musical accompaniment, Tina and Mary are the ones disregarded by camera and characters, and the conversation between Rodriga and the artist—about her “studio” where we’ve seen her sketching two freshly pleasured Mexican teens just moments before—plays like a porno’s clumsy dramatic foreplay. The scene presents us with a feeling of bouncing between different tonal registers and thematic angles that are amateurish and inconsistent with the rest of the film.
We can only assume that the film is made up of the simple observation of social interactions among emotionally guarded kids. When the film goes into the larger narrative dynamic between the aimless curiosity of the teenagers, the free-spirited sexuality of the Marfa Girl, and the pervasive hostility of the Border Patrol force, things get interesting for a minute Because we really have no back-story about any of the characters, it is hard to understand where the film is really going, if anywhere at all.