Confessions of a Late Bloomer
by Ben Beard
The trials and tribulations of a pre-puberty loser…
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A pint-sized sophomore on the wrong side of puberty, Donald Lowenstein braves the hell and the headache every day: high school. Weighing 81 pounds soaking weight, Donald is an easy target for school bullies and the constant butt of pranks and jokes. Donny struggles to fit in, but the culture of his high school—with its emphasis on sex, athletics, and looks—leaves him ostracized and alone. He glides along under everyone’s radar, crushing on high school cutie Sheila, while avoiding her boyfriend and his muscle-bound nemesis, Cal . As the movie begins, Sheila invites Donny to her pool party which is nice, except Donny will have to wear shorts and no shirt, revealing his hairless torso and undersized legs and arms. It’s a daunting proposition for our half-pint hero. Surviving the thousand insults and daily humiliations of high school while fully clothed is hard enough.
The oversexed high schoolers around him emphasize Donny’s plight, with the incessant talk of penis size, sexual liaisons, and working out. Due to his biological makeup, Donny is literally being left behind. Donny is the classic outsider: smart, funny, likeable, but too small.
Later that day, while attempting a pull-up in front of the whole gym class, Donny’s pants are pulled down by Cal. Fed up, Donny challenges Cal to a bet, on Cal ‘s terms. If Donny kisses Sheila in front of everyone at the pool party, then Cal will never bother him again. If he fails, he has to try out for the football team, and, unspoken, be Cal ‘s personal whipping boy for the next two years. The stage is set: will Donny kiss the girl and accept who he is, or be humiliated once again, this time in front of everyone in his class?
Hoping to bulk up and pass puberty in the week between the bet and the party, Donny tries various solutions: his father’s hair replacer, weight gainer, exercise, and lots of hamburger meat. But it’s all to no avail. His body won’t change before its ready, despite the urgency of the need. He finally decides to attend anyway, with modifications that are both funny and tragic at the same time. And if this sounds like a sweet episode of Wonder Years, that’s sort of what it watches like, which is high praise. The only real complaint would be the length: by the time the movie ends, we want to know more about Donny and how he’s faring now.
The movie looks good. Nice solid visuals in the better than television variety. And the acting is really quite fantastic, especially young Donny, played by Tyler Chase. He’s understated and lonely and ambitious all at the same time. It’s a nice performance for a nice movie. And although its well-trod territory—these rank high school halls of petty cruelty and casual malice—I’m always happy to return. It reminds me that being an adult, where the vicious inanities of children no longer cut daggers into our fragile psyches, I no longer have to deal with this sort of thing. An enjoyable movie by any standard and definitely worth checking out.
Ben Beard is writer and critic living in the Midwest. He passed through puberty a long time ago.
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