One of the most vivid and peculiar childhood memories I have was of a movie I’d caught on cable at a very young age and was absolutely mesmerized by, even though I knew next to nothing about sex or love (and still can’t figure the latter). PRIVATE LESSONS had everything you could hope for to hold the attention of your average 6 year old boy.
Beginning at a high school graduation party where “Hot Legs” (by Rod Stewart) shrilly blares on, we witness the affluent, lily-white local teens spasmodically shake and strut their Caucasian-thing in a vain, losing effort to prove their groove. Of course, if your rich and white, who cares if you can dance? This is of little consequence to teenaged voyeurs Philly (Eric Brown) and Sherman (Patrick Piccininni), who straddle the rooftop with binoculars in order to gain a bird’s eye view of the guest of honor, Sherman’s hot blond sister, Joyce, who hops in the pool fully-clothed with her hunky beau, then gets booted from the party for their subsequent hot and heavy make-out session.
It’s soon apparent Philly is battling some ungodly hormones, a fact no doubt exacerbated when a lovely new French housekeeper named Miss Mallow (Sylvia Kristel, the international superstar of EMMANUELLE) is hired by his father. And therein lies the essence of the plot, threadbare and throbbing like a sore thumb, though don’t confuse this to be in any way a slight. Quite the contrary, I think narratives as simple as this surely represent the kind of purity of intent and vision that is rare with the preponderance of swill-infused, target market-reduced convolutions we otherwise call movies nowadays.
There is an instance in which the boys frolic in Sherman’s pool, with Philly verbally contemplating a nude Miss Mallow. I wasn’t going to mention this scene, as it’s rather extraneous and but a fleeting moment, yet for some reason I need to reconcile the point in which Sherman splashes his sister Joyce (Pamela Bryant), who walks off in a huff. There, that feels better.
During their first real chat together, Miss Mallow catches Philly off-guard in a revealing exchange. “You mean your previous housekeepers have been elderly women mostly?” “Mm-hmm” “That must not have been too interesting for you.” “What do you mean?” “It must not have been too interesting for a young man of… fifteen, is it?” “Going on 16. I’m not sure I got your point. What do you mean?” “It must not have been too interesting to sit across from your elderly housekeepers and look up their dresses like you’re looking up mine right now.”
Riding into town with Lester behind the wheel, a most insidious subplot is revealed. It seems Lester is actually a rather dastardly fellow, threatening Miss Mallow into having sex with the boy in some kind of ridiculous blackmail plot against Philly’s father. To attempt to wrap your head around this preposterous conspiracy will do you absolutely no good. PRIVATE LESSONS just might have achieved perfection if not for this silly, heavy-handed contrivance.