Ken Park sees Larry Clark continue with what he does best. Another film about American teenagers and their relaxed attitudes to sex and violence. A lot more honest and real than most teen movies, it's not always easy to watch.Ken Park tells the story of four teenage friends in a small suburban town. When he’s not having sex with his friends, Sean is having an affair with his girlfriend’s mother. Claude lives with his pregnant mother and abusive father, and tries to escape boredom by skateboarding, doing drugs and again…having sex. Peaches lives with her deeply religious father and has kinky sex with her boyfriend when he’s a way. Tate has a three-legged dog and lives with his grandparents. Slightly psychotic, he spends most of his days masturbating to women’s tennis, shouting abuse at his grandparents or skipping rope with the neighbourhood children.
There’s something not quite right about this film. Somehow it doesn’t feel like a Larry Clark film, which is strange as this is certainly familiar territory for the man. Clark is great at dealing with young actors in extremely complex and explicitly sexual situations, proven by his earlier films Kids and Bully, two of the most honest portrayals of teenage life ever made. And again, this film is well-acted, brutally honest and feels almost uncomfortably real at times. What makes Ken Park different from Kids and Gummo is the slightly surreal twists to the characters lives. This most certainly comes down to Harmony Korine’s script, which he wrote at the same time he wrote Kids. While it feels like Kids was written for Larry Clark to direct, Ken Park feels more like a film that Harmony Korine wanted to have a bigger influence on. Tate has a three-legged dog and tries his grandfathers dentures, Claude has to clip his pregnant mother’s toenails, Peaches wanted to be a tap dancer when she was a kid etc. These are things that would have worked perfectly in Gummo, but here it just brings to attention that this is a work of fiction and makes the rest of the film less powerful.
However, this is still a brutally honest depiction of teenage life. In a world where we’re constantly surrounded by sexual imagery, the mystery and fascination has completely worn off and in these kids’ lives it’s just something to do, another way of hanging out together and one of the only free things left to do with your friends. Peaches loves her boyfriend, but the rough sex she’s having with him is completely different from the purely recreational sex she’s having with Sean and Claude. These kids have been forced to grow up way too quickly, be it because of negligent parents or just because of the state of today’s society. As Sean describes their lives: “It’s pretty boring, but sometimes when we get together we have fun”.Ken Park is a flawed, but still utterly fascinating take on teenage sex and violence.