Monday, May 25, 2009

Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker (1979)

Directed by Ted Post. A movie with the title "Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker" can only be one of two things. If the drivers are the protagonists then it's a dirty movie with the message that if you pick up teen hitchhikers, you will get laid. If it's about the hitchhikers then it's a TV movie with the message that if you hitchhike, you will die. I'd say that as a film-goer, either way you win. Though the two respective film-going experiences are going to be extremely different. This turned out to be the second kind of movie.

If you know me and why would you be reading this if you didn't, you know how I love TV movies. I say there is very little bad in a TV movie that can't be saved by Dick Van Patten, who fortunately shows up in this quite a bit. Still most of the screen time is dominated by Charlene Tilton, who by the way does not seem to keep a diary despite the movie's title, nor do any of the other teen hitchhikers portrayed here.

You might think that surely there must be some additional plot here, since it would be impossible to fill the length of an entire movie with nothing but talk about hitchhiking. Well, you'd be wrong. This movie is a solid 90 minutes of long conversations about needing a ride, not being able to get a ride, wishing for a car, not being able to afford a car, being resigned that there are no other option but to hitchhike, the various pluses and minuses of hitchhiking, and then of course, long sequences featuring actual hitchhiking. It turns out that this is a rich enough topic to support an entire miniseries if Dick Van Patten hadn't had so many other acting jobs going on at the time.

I learned a lot from this movie. First, all girls hitchhike because they have no other way to get to work. Their dads won't buy them cars because they can't afford them or because girls have proven over and over that they'll just crash the cars anyway.

Second, no fat girls hitchhike. Also no boys hitchhike or it simply isn't a national problem warranting the attention demanded by the crisis in girls hitchhiking, or at least, the crisis in slim girls hitchhiking.

Third, slim hitchhiker girls don't ever, ever, ever learn their lesson until the creepy guy in mirrored sunglasses assaults them personally. Even after one of Julie Thurston's (Tilton) hitchhiker friends is raped by a driver and a different one is killed, she still hitchhikes. Eventually she is picked up by Creepy Mirrored Sunglasses Guy Who Tries to Assault Her, but she beats him over the head with a little statue of two lovers in an embrace (irony). She ends up in the hospital. But get this, the film ends with her little sister standing by the side of the road with her thumb out. Duh.

Slim hitchhiker girls hear about these assaults on the radio, read about them in the newspaper, their parents tell them about them breakfast because it might happen to someone they know, and in fact, it can happen TO SOMEONE THEY KNOW! But they'll still just keep hitchhiking until it happens to them.

This is a very important point because it means that nothing can actually be done about the grave slim hitchhiking girls problem in our country. This begs the question whether it's actually a societal crisis or just a flaw in the slim hitchhiker girl species. At some point we need to leave Darwin alone and let him take out the trash. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, lemmings gonna jump, hitchhikers gonna die.

For the record, this movie is not quite as entertaining as "Death Car on the Freeway," a TV movie that originally aired the EXACT SAME WEEK as "Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker" -- in September, 1979. "Death Car" was a more truthfully titled film because its story involved many deaths via a car on a freeway, unlike this absurdly titled competitor in which nobody -- NOBODY(!) -- kept a diary.

Also, in "Death Car on the Freeway," the cars, drivers and highway assaults are all parts of a big metaphor for rape. For example, Shelley Hack, who plays a TV reporter, is doing journalism on one of the highway assaults, so she interviews some male chauvinist pundit who says something like, "Well, I don't know...what kind of car was she driving? I mean, she was kind of asking for it, don't you think?"

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