'Slut in a Good Way' Takes Us Back to the Trials of Teen Life

Girls just want to have fun in this imperfect but entertaining French-Canadian film, now in theaters.

Slut In A Good Way

“No emotional dependence.” That’s the rule Quebecois 11th grader Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) decides to live by in the new movie Slut In a Good Way after her first boyfriend dumps her by coming out as gay. She sits at the edge of the bed moments after the breakup, framed tenderly at a middle distance in soft black-and-white, her face stained with tears and her body slightly hunched over the lingerie she bought to please him. From this moment on, Charlotte’s on a mission to be as free as she can–the English-translated word ”free,” along with “open,” is used in the movie as descriptors for casual sex–like “Rihanna and Marilyn Monroe.”

Charlotte’s friends, smart and cynical Mégane (Romane Denis) and shy, sweet Aube (Rose Adam), provide a running commentary on her journey of liberation, and the three soon decide to apply for jobs at a toy store overrun by cute young male staff members. As Charlotte shares dalliances with one boy after another, she’s too busy having fun (the original title of the movie literally translates to Charlotte Has Fun) to notice the whispered judgments that eventually come to a head at the staff Halloween party, where someone accuses her of going for “a perfect score.” From there on out, she questions her decisions and the society that led her to this moment, scrutinizing the paradoxes and pleasures of a workplace where everyone is hooking up.

Slut In a Good Way unfolds in an entertainingly cyclical and mostly lighthearted way, yet it falls short of living up to its revolutionary title. Double standards are examined, quips about gender dynamics delivered, and allusions to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Shakespearean comedy shoehorned into the third act. A clip of Maria Callas singing about love serves as punctuation and transition for several scenes. Despite these thoughtful references, large swaths of Catherine Léger’s script barely skims the surface of these characters.

The girls act and react, state their desires and insecurities, but we rarely see hints about who they are when no one’s looking. An exchange during which a single pregnant woman divulges the circumstances of her situation is the most real moment in the film but feels all the more out of place among scenes that otherwise maintain the flighty, romantic mood of a teenage girl. A sharp comedic wit lends the film much of its energy, and it fares best when funny, like a teen version of Sex and the City. Like the beloved show, it centers on sequences of dialogue among friends, recognizing that female friendship and the ways in which women talk about sex can be more interesting than scenes of lovemaking themselves. Unfortunately, like Sex and the City, the film also comes across as dated in some of its ideologies despite its status as a new release in the U.S. (it premiered in Canada over a year ago). Discussions about LGBT people, female bodies, and the consequences of sex–one girl tells Charlotte she’d be stoned in Iraq for her behavior–feel off in an environment where every character strives to be libre.

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It’s also clear throughout the movie that Charlotte and her friends need emotional dependence, despite Charlotte’s repeated declarations. Their love for one another and infatuation with the boys at work aren’t a show of weakness or something they can commit themselves against, no matter how much they strive for independence. Meanwhile, the boys shift from cads to gentlemen and back again depending on what the situation calls for. The lessons here, if there are any, are muddled beneath the contrast between what the characters say, what they do, and–least clear to us–what they actually want and believe when removed from the context of peer pressure and public shame.

Despite these written missteps, Sophie Lorain’s impressionistic direction still elevates the film to dreamy French-Canadian arthouse status. Inky, gorgeous black and white cinematography makes each scene pop, while creative flourishes let us inside Charlotte’s mind without ever leaving the reality of the scene. Several times, Charlotte is surrounded by coworkers who move past and around her from either side in an almost braided chain of motion, sometimes commenting, or reminding her of something, and sometimes not. These shots, which appear during pivotal moments of great exhilaration, judgment, turmoil, or relief, serve as a much-needed emotional through-line for her ever-changing character.

When it comes to sex-positive comedies led by clever teen girls and made by female filmmakers, the average viewer’s (read: someone without every possible niche streaming service) options are decidedly slim. Maggie Carey’s The To-Do List, Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Olivia Wilde’s upcoming Booksmart are a few that come to mind. This makes dwelling on Slut in a Good Way’s less cohesive aspects feel like nit-picking when the film is still an airy delight for daring to address the topic at hand with humor and frankness. The movie’s not perfect, but it’s worth celebrating for the fact that it does something rare, ultimately allowing teen girls (and boys) to embrace both their love of sex and, inevitably, their love of falling in love.

Bay Area freelance writer, podcast producer, TV lover, and cheese plate enthusiast.