Girls evade 'R' rating to worship at Leo's shrine

February 20, 2000|By Susan Reimer

LEO'S BACK, and the babe-ettes who made him a box-office god with multiple viewings of "Titanic" think they have grown up enough to handle him in a movie with sex, drugs, guns and shark attacks.

It has been almost three Oscar cycles since "Titanic" made Leonardo DiCaprio one of the hottest commodities in the acting world, and that's a lifetime in preteen years.

But if "Titanic" was a parental-permission reach for 10-to-12-year-olds, "The Beach," a hybrid of "Lord of the Flies" and "Apocalypse Now" which opened in theaters last weekend, deserves every bit of its "R" rating.

Not that the rating will stop Leo's loyal legions.

On a scouting trip to the local multiplex to collect reasons why my daughter would not be permitted to see Leo's latest movie, I encountered a dozen 15-year-old girls who were trying to sweet-talk their way past an implacable gatekeeper.

More than fashions have changed since "Titanic" was released with its "R" rating. In response to urgings from President Clinton, movie theaters have decided to get serious about "under 17 not admitted without adult."

To purchase their tickets, "we told lies," the girls said, and admitted to slipping cash to adults ahead of them in line.

Once inside the theater, the girls managed to find a weak-willed adult who would agree to temporary guardianship. Then they got what they wanted: "Two hours of Leo without a shirt on," said Bridgette Brown, 15, of Northern High School in Anne Arundel County.

"Adults don't think we are mature enough to handle the stuff we see in these movies," said Caitlin McKenna, 15, of St. Mary's High School in Annapolis. "They don't know we handle stuff every day."

Leo's star turn in "The Beach" represents his decision to plumb the heart of darkness of a character and demonstrate that he has matured as an actor.

But he hasn't matured in any way that is visible with his shirt off. He is still that smooth-cheeked, narrow-chested androgynous boy who is appealing to preteen girls for all those reasons. You don't need to carry a photo ID to love a guy who looks like this.

For just these reasons, "The Beach" gathers in one place all the difficulties in making movies for the "tweens," kids from 8 to 14, teen-agers in the cocoon stage who nonetheless want to fly.

These kids pocket billions in allowance every year, and they spend every cent of it. Hollywood wants its share. And movies are an approved gathering place for preteens, who are ferociously social and travel in packs.

This group, however, will only go to movies it can be seen seeing. They won't admit to seeing "Toy Story 2" because it was animated.

Parents, meanwhile, are beaten down by their children's weeping predictions of peer rejection precisely because these battles, which began at the age of 8, have gone on for so many years now.

So "R" ratings and parental permission and photo IDs and bouncers at the theater door were simply tests of true love for the girls who wheedled their way into see Leo. Their verdict?

"It kind of dragged," said Meddaugh Ambrose, 15, of St. Mary's High School. "It wasn't as good as I expected." Her eyes flicked away distractedly, and Leo seemed suddenly soooo last week.

The girls were off to the next fun thing, the next bright object. Behind them, I suspect, are moviemakers and parents.

All of them breathing hard.

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