What does it take to find a friend? What does it take to be a friend? What can you give, or give up, or give into in order to influence the acceptance of a friendship?
Ricardo Trogi (and you can pronounce his surname any way you want but you'll probably still get it wrong) has a stash of Playboys -- or so he says -- and suddenly the eighth grade click he wants in with are giving him their full attention. When you're young, you use what you have. Kids sharing Playboys probably go back to the invention of Playboys. Ricardo's problem is that he doesn't have anything -- the Playboys, the right clothes, a Walkman.
The character, director and narrator are the same. We see Ricardo as a boy, a simple materialistic, not-quite prepubescent teen who wants things he sees in catalogs but has to bug mom and dad for the money. As he navigates the monetary disciplines at home he also spins in a web of Junior High lies. The lies help him form bonds of friendship. Again, we go back to the strength of that tie.
The director/narrator looks back to a time when moving to a new school produces the most profound kind of social fear, when having your arm unnoticeably touched by a pretty girl caves you in to a months-long spree of hormonal rush, and when fear of being noticed in your family -- ie, mom and dad -- make you close your eyes at night and escape into dream lands of fantasy.
It's a fun story. And it is very playful, and quite cute, too -- but sometimes a little too much so. A little sap would have been good in places, but there's a lot of sap on the train with the rest of this fun. The film reminded me of a less-creepy Léolo or a happier, french-speaking Stand By Me, with a touch of the sibling rivalry of E.T. and a small hint of Roberto Benigni's bond with his son in Life Is Beautiful.
And while 1981 isn't exactly as good as any of the films I've just mentioned, it is worth watching, particularly for the last six or eight minutes which are entirely rewarding. Dead-on with real life, the way life works as a lying eighth grader who is bargaining in every relationship he has, the last few scenes close in such a strong way that it makes the proceeding 94 minutes worth the investment.
There's a curious, sad, and possibly quite true moral as Trogi shares about the Jr. Hi experience towards the end: "It happened 26 years ago and I still obsess about it. What was I thinking? The damn truth only works if everyone's telling it."
The quote feels like one of those truths where you wish it weren't true. The thought of it goes against faith in God, or the Bible, or even humanity in general. But you know what? Hate to say it -- he's right. If you cop to your pretend side and no one else joins in, you're not dragging things into the light which will somehow make your life more whole, real, or better -- you're only giving up yourself to liars who will eventually plow you down.
I'm walking away on a serious note to a film that really was light-hearted. I can't tell if that's me or the film. Maybe it's a little bit both.