When Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) gets dumped by her longtime boyfriend after he reveals that he’s gay, her immediate reaction is to feel both aggrieved and weirdly undaunted. Venting to her besties Mégane (Romane Denis) and Aube (Rose Adam), she alternately curses her ex and angrily insists that this cannot and will not stop her from pursuing a relationship with him. Though both of these extremes are temporary, they say a lot about Charlotte, who doesn’t do things halfway. “You need to find ways to have fun,” one of her friends tells her, and she dedicates herself to that, too, quickly expanding her sexual experiences. Slut In A Good Way takes its American title from a line of dialogue, the moment when Charlotte clarifies that she doesn’t want her dalliances to be seen as a slutty, at least not in a bad way. But it’s true to the movie’s ebullient sex-positive sweetness that the original French title of this French-Canadian production translates to Charlotte Has Fun.
What gives this not-especially-explicit sex comedy a hint of transgression is that Charlotte, Mégane, and Aube are all teenagers, and none are looking for true love or even looking much further ahead than a few weeks. They’re around senior-year ages, but college or career searches don’t much figure into their lives as depicted here, and though they do attend high school, it’s barely glimpsed. Director Sophie Lorain, shooting in sparkling and occasionally dreamlike black and white, places them almost exclusively in spaces that call attention to their in-between status. Early in Charlotte’s post-break-up despondence, the girls drink and smoke on a playground. Later, they impulsively take jobs at a local big-box toy store, where they’re surrounded by both children’s playthings and college-aged coworkers just a touch more adult than they are. Those coworkers, mostly male, are the main draw for the girls’ initial applications, and soon Charlotte (the romantic one), Mégane (the cynical one), and Aube (the semi-shy one) are all engaging in various flirtations, hook-ups, and little social melodramas.
With its workplace-centric bawdiness and lack of credible adult authority, Slut In A Good Way has shades of Clerks, Ghost World (one character even wears a rubber Catwoman-style mask in the first scene), and the French Canadian ennui dramedy Tu Dors Nicole, though with less outright angst than any of those movies. Its humor is direct but nicely understated. The film includes at least one montage of sexual encounters, but there’s less action than talk, which Lorain blocks so masterfully that it becomes action. She choreographs many of her shots to minimize cuts, imbuing the characters’ conversations with dynamic motion, staging them over criss-crossing lines or in a series of bathroom mirrors. A scene where the girls are briefed on their new jobs packs an impressive number of character details, gestures, and information into just a few minutes, and in the first scene on the toy-store floor, cute boys cut through the frame and cause repeated camera pivots.
Those boys are amusingly interchangeable; there’s a great little sight gag that gathers them all in the same frame, each sporting a developing Movember-inspired fundraising mustache. Mégane, meanwhile, fumes that financing cancer research does drug companies’ work for them, and forms a spiteful counter-fundraiser with a touch of Lysistrata. The swing from carefree sex to abstinence reinforces the mixed messages young women receive from the world at large—including, crucially, from themselves. The guys at the store consider themselves open-minded and free, but there’s an arbitrary and undesignated line that Charlotte crosses at some point; safely and openly sleeping around attracts attention to a young woman in a way that it doesn’t for her male counterparts. The movie is matter-of-fact, rather than didactic, about how even low-stakes teenage fun can be distorted by these unspoken and gendered expectations.
Lorain’s film ultimately doesn’t go especially deep in detailing its romantic relationships, its friendships, or any overarching storyline. But Slut In A Good Way is more than the sum of its entanglements; the actors and the camera work so well together that it feels, at times, like a musical. (The repeated use of Maria Callas singing a famous bit from Carmen drives this home, perhaps too emphatically by the third or fourth cue.) Even Lorain’s most static shots have energy and wit, as when the conversation plays out over characters playing a dance video game, with one guy in the background clearly itching to jump in for his disinterested friend. Later, the closing credits are performed, appropriately enough, like a curtain call. Hopefully Lorain will get a curtain call of her own. This is only her second feature as a director; plenty of filmmakers go entire careers without making anything this charming, confident, and stylish.