Gen Xers, rejoice! Little Darlings, the summer-camp classic that had girls siding with Team Ferris or Team Angel, is finally available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Mere mention of the movie to women of a certain age elicits squeals and gasps. Stuck in music-rights limbo for nearly 40 years, the film was available only on VHS after its theatrical release in 1980. Tatum O'Neal (already an Oscar winner for her role in Paper Moon) plays prissy rich girl Ferris, and Kristy McNichol turns in a nuanced and touching performance as the tough cookie, Angel. Both are just trying to fit in at camp (an institution that was a total mystery and a source of much envy to an immigrant kid like me).
When I first saw it as a preteen, I was in awe of the nonstop shenanigans and adult themes—central to which is O'Neal and McNichol's wager to see who could lose her virginity first. Along with the requisite food fights, outdoorsy slapstick montage, and girl-on-girl hijinks of the genre, the movie captures the longing and fear of leaving childhood behind, kissing boys, and being free of parental units. Unsupervised, the girls stuff their bras, wear a little bit too much makeup, smoke like chimneys, and try their best to convey sexual ennui in between color wars and water sports. (You can watch the trailer here.)
As I watch the movie again, after a lifetime of experience, the heartbreak and yearning hits a little closer to home and evokes a deep nostalgia. In my WASP-irational youth (a brown Catholic kid wishing she was anything but), I was all about worldly yet sheltered Ferris, with her country-club tan and perfect French accent. Today, I wish I had been more of an Angel—dressed head to toe in skintight denim, with a perfect feathered ’do, smoking, swearing, and being an all-around badass. In truth, I’m a little bit of them both and of all the campers in their bunk—a flower child (an early role for Cynthia Nixon, of Sex and the City fame), a book worm, an awkward dork, a preening narcissist, and a child. Like us, under those stereotypes, they are just looking for acceptance and kindred spirits—camp friends for life.
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