on September 03, 2004 by Jordan Reed
While her younger sister Katie (Stephanie Gatchet) excels simultaneously in track and field and devoutness ("I'm running for God," she says) in Deborah Kampmeier's debut feature "Virgin," discontented Jessie Reynolds (Elisabeth Moss) shoplifts, drinks and smokes, rebelling against her bordering-on-fundamentalist parents in the stereotypical ways teens do. But one fateful, drunken encounter with her local crush Shane (Charles Socarides) changes Jessie's life forever, opening up a previously untapped store of faith and fervor intertwined with the immaculate conception (hence the title, lest you thought it was a teenage sex comedy from the early '80s), and resulting in a supposition neither her family nor her community are willing to accept.

"Virgin" unleashes a torrent of expected small-town closed-mindedness and pathos, its low-budget digital video format and shaky camera work aiding in the prevention of most subtlety--as do the portentous Spanglish howlings of the neighborhood crazy lady Lorna (Socorro Santiago) and the film's recurrent bird motif. But even 35mm film stock and a Steadicam would not necessarily have helped. Despite Robin Wright Penn's stamp of approval--the actress serves as executive producer and takes on a small role as the Reynolds matriarch suffering through her husband's infidelities--Kampmeier reveals her inexperience as a feature filmmaker, and her effort struggles with the weight of its own subject matter and final ambiguities. On the plus side, Kampmeier's 12 years as an acting teacher must have helped her coax a fine performance from Moss, who rings devastatingly true as a bittersweet teen so trapped by cruel peers, unrequited love, hypocritical piousness and ignorant intolerance, she transforms into her own brand of unmovable zealot. Starring Elisabeth Moss, Stephanie Gatchet, Charles Socarides and Robin Wright Penn. Directed and written by Deborah Kampmeier. Produced by Sarah Schenck and Raye Dowell. An Artistic License release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 112 min

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