Larry Clarke's Kids showed a depressing, totally unerotic picture of teenage sexual activity. Low on romance and respect, but high on degradation and squalor. Luca Guadagnino's Spanish-Italian production covers similar ground, but with a slightly glossier sheen. The titular Melissa is a shy, inexperienced teenager who, after several grubby sexual fumbles, becomes a precocious Gloria Guida type.
The transformation from virgin to whore is not entirely convincing, but Guadagnino gives the film an air of acute unhappiness that the desperate sex cannot dissipate a jot. Although of legal age at the time, star Maria Valverde looks authentically jailbait like in a series of eyebrow raising scenes, especially the sequence set during a P.E. lesson. Veteran actress Geraldine Chaplin gives a strong performance as Melissa's grandmother, the only person who truly understands the troubled young girl. When granny is retired off to a rest home, Melissa's situation rapidly degenerates.
Not a classic by any means, but a jolting opening scene, youthful cast and nicely downcast cinematography provide an interesting contrast to the usual teenage sexual high jinks.