Pros: Juliette Lewis and early Brad Pitt. Interesting story.
Cons: Somewhat unrealistic and dated.
I'm not a big fan of capital punishment, especially when it involves minors. I am, however, a fan of cheesy made for TV movies. Yesterday morning, I was looking for one to help pass the Saturday and stumbled across a film from 1990 called Too Young to Die? Starring Juliette Lewis and Brad Pitt when they were still very young, this film promised to satisfy my appetite for televised cheese. I had actually seen this movie before on television, but watched it yesterday on Netflix, courtesy of instant viewing.
15 year old Oklahoma teen Amanda Sue Bradley (Lewis) sure was dealt a crappy hand in the game of life. As the film begins, she's being cuffed and stuffed by several cops for murder. She's led out of a very poor looking trailer park and forced into a squad car, then driven to the local jail, where she's made to change into an ugly uniform and led in chains by two matrons to a tiny, cold, jail cell. Poor Mandy seems confused about what's happened to her, but she manages to fall asleep until she's awakened by her public defender, Buddy Thornton (Michael Tucker).
Thornton is a kind man and an earnest attorney, but he freely admits that he's not very experienced, especially when it comes to murder cases. Mandy still seems confused as the lawyer explains that she's been charged with murder. As Buddy turns to leave her for the first time, she asks him to bring her some candy coated chocolates... a small comfort her mother used to give her when she was sick. When Thornton comes back with Mandy's candy, they sit in a holding cell and the film flashes back so viewers can get the backstory.
What's a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?
It's Christmas morning. Mandy, just 14 years old, wakes up in her trailer park bedroom, excited about the holiday. Her trashy looking mother Wanda (Laurie O'Brien) tells her she has to make her own breakfast because her stepfather Harvey (Dean Abston), got drunk the night before and Wanda has to go to work. Amanda smiles and kisses her mom, thanks her for the Christmas sweets, and tries to prepare for the day. Right after her mother leaves the trailer, Harvey gets all lascivious and tells Mandy how womanly she's become. Let's just say it's not Mandy's merriest Christmas.
When Mandy tells Wanda about what Harvey did to her, Wanda gets upset... but not with the person who was at fault. She tells Mandy to get over it or hit the road. Luckily, Mandy has a boyfriend who wants to marry her. Sweet little Mandy and her 18 year old boyfriend get married; but after three months, the marriage is a disaster. It's clear that neither Mandy nor her husband are prepared for marriage. Mandy's husband runs off to join the Army. When Mandy tries to go back home to her mother, she finds that Wanda and Harvey have left the area.
Now Mandy's homeless. She heads for the big city and stops at a bowling alley, where she's hoping to find a job or at least a hot meal. A kindly waitress named Jean (Emily Longstreth) tries to warn her away from the joint, but not before Mandy runs into a sleazy character named Billy Canton (Pitt). Eyeing the nubile young teen, Canton gets the idea that she can make them both some money.
Next thing we know, Mandy's in a bikini at a strip joint. She's pushed out on the stage, but too shy to do any dancing. The audience boos and poor Mandy runs out of the strip joint and into the street. Billy runs after her, covers her with a coat, and feeds her some drugs, which increases her confidence. Now high as a kite, Mandy gets back on the stage and voila, a professional stripper is born.
One fateful night, Mandy's hanging out at the strip joint and is approached by a handsome young soldier named Mike (Michael O' Keefe). Newly divorced Mike is disturbed about Mandy's line of work and offers to help her. He puts her up in his house and gives her a taste of suburban life. It looks like Mandy's life might finally be changing for the better. But a certain someone blows the whistle on what Mike's doing and he's forced to kick Mandy out... right back into Billy Canton's arms and the snare of drugs.
Some time later, Mandy and Billy run into Mike and his new girlfriend. Billy manipulates Mandy into becoming incensed at Mike for kicking her out of his house. That night Billy convinces Mandy that Mike has screwed her over. The two of them, fueled by a drug induced rage, decide to exact their revenge on Mike and his new girlfriend. Mike meets a violent end and Mandy ends up in the slammer. Can Mandy's inexperienced but dedicated public defender save her from the gas chamber?
This film was loosely based on an actual case in Mississippi that occurred back in 1982. Attina Marie Cannaday was just 16 years old when she and 28 year old David Gray and Dawn Bushart shot and killed U.S. Air Force Sergeant Ronald Wojcik. Both Cannaday and Gray were found guilty of the crime and sentenced to lethal injection. Both sentences were eventually reversed, though the guilty verdicts were upheld. Cannaday was paroled in 2008, while Gray is still in prison. At the time Too Young To Die was filmed, there were a number of teenagers on death row. Apparently, this is why producers Susan Weber-Gold and Julie Anne Weitz felt the need to make this film.
There were some things about this movie that seemed very dramatized and a bit stereotypical. It seems hard to believe that Mandy so easily falls into stripping, even if she is on drugs. But the film has a running time of just 92 minutes, so I'm sure some of the more realistic details had to be cut out of the story. I was a bit surprised that Mandy's first run in with the cops occurs after she commits murder, though. Seems to me that a fourteen year old stripper, even in the worst part of town, would attract the attention of someone in law enforcement or social services.
Mandy's age was also a bit confusing. At the beginning of the film she tells her stepfather, Harvey, that she's going to be fifteen the following month-- January. But then we see her getting married and stripping and she's referred to as fourteen years old. She doesn't claim to be fifteen until she's arrested for murder, which seems like it was several months after Christmas. To go by this film, it seems that Mandy's fifteenth year was very busy and traumatic. She's wearing shorts and it looks very much like summer when she's hauled off to the clink. By the way this film is presented, Mandy gets raped, married, divorced, shacks up with a stand up guy, and becomes a drug addicted stripper/murderer all within the course of a few months. That's a lot of serious action for an unrealistically short span of time.
As television movies go, this one isn't too bad. Juliette Lewis is definitely the star of the movie. Though she was about 17 when this movie is made, she definitely looks and, perhaps more importantly, acts, like someone younger. We see her looking very vulnerable and childlike. We see her throwing tantrums out of frustration. The whole time, even when she's loaded on drugs, she seems so innocent and good. She's very believable in her role as a sweet, naive girl who's been lured into a life of debauchery and crime.
Brad Pitt is also okay in this film, though if you saw him in Thelma and Louise, you'll easily recognize his character in Too Young To Die?. In this film, he looks very scruffy and actually isn't very pleasant to look at; but he's convincing as a scumbag who exploits teenagers, even if he sort of recycles that character a year later in Thelma and Louise.
It should probably go without saying that this film is a poor choice for children. It's a made for TV flick, so there's almost no swearing, but there are a couple of violent scenes, one involving rape and the other involving murder, and there are several scenes involving drugs. I actually had to cut away from the murder scene because I found it disturbing.
Too Young To Die? boasts a talented cast and an interesting storyline, but it is a bit dated and somewhat unrealistic. Nevertheless, it did satisfy my craving for made for TV cheese... I'll recommend it, if only for the early Juliette Lewis performance.