Poison Ivy

It’s gonna take a notion, a Calamine-a lotion
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1992
Director: 
Katt Shea
Starring: 
Drew Barrymore, Sara Gilbert, Tom Skerritt, Cheryl Ladd
The Setup: 
Evil teen moves in and ruins family’s life.
Discussion: 

I had seen this when it was out in theaters with a friend who maintained a fair interest in the career resuscitation of Drew Barrymore, of which this was the first shot. You will recall that Drew was in E.T. at seven, then got involved in drugs, then wrote her tell-all, and this movie was an attempt to have a career again by obviously playing on her bad-girl image. Anyway, we were disappointed, but an abiding interest in the camp value of teen vamps made me advance in on my list for immediate re-evaluation.

We open by seeing Drew swinging on this rope in a wooded gulch of some kind. We hear a voice-over appraising her: “Most girls don’t fly through the air with their skirt around their waist.” You know, I guess that's true. This is the voice of Sara Gilbert [of Roseanne] as Sylvie, who describes herself as “the politically / environmentally-correct feminist poetry-reading type.” She comments on every aspect of Drew’s appearance, including how her puffy lips look like a vagina, then ponders the viewer’s unspoken question: “Maybe I’m a lesbian. No, definitely not.” She is derisive about Drew, judging her “scangy,” then immediately says “I really wish we could be friends.”

Is it time for foreshadowing yet? Someone finds a dog having been hit by a car in the road, and while Sylvie is tearfully contemplating why the innocent creatures must end up disemboweled, Drew comes up and clubs the thing with a pipe! She was just putting it out of its misery, or course. Next they run into each other in detention, making it clear to us that this—1992—was the age of huge fluffy hair all piled over to one side. Sylvie notes that Drew is “one of those scholarship kids,” making one unclear whether this means that Drew is an academic genius or some sort of inner-city case. Even more inexplicable, Drew then says that this means that doctors used a gun to inject a wire that is currently running through her. I’m sorry, what? This whole line of inquiry is never returned to. Anyway, it seems that Sylvie’s Dad is a sort of on-TV Don Imus, and Sylvie is in trouble for calling in a bomb threat to his show. Drew thinks this is awesome because “Your dad’s an asshole.”

Dad shows up, NOT happy. Sylvie apologizes, saying she didn’t mean to hurt him [huh?], then Drew sticks her cleavage in the car and asks for a ride home. Sylvie says that this is her friend Ivy—please note that we never find out Drew’s real name. Dad reluctantly offers a ride, and Ivy pulls the first of her many special tricks as she insists that she sit in the front seat. She then lifts her legs up and let’s Dad admire her shapely gams.

Ivy and Sylvie then take turns telling their histories. Sylvie says that Tom is not her dad, that she is the child of a black man—which we later find out is part of her history of compulsive lying. Ivy says that she found “like 500” porn magazine of her father’s, leading Sylvie to theorize “That’s why you look so sexy, so your dad will notice you.” She then asks “Did it work?” to which Ivy responds “No.”

Then Sylvie’s sick mother, played by ex-Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd, shows up. She is housebound and sickly and I don’t think we ever find out what’s wrong with her—is it psychosomatic? She warns Sylvie against Ivy, but Ivy comes in and lays it on thick with the mom, winning her over. You will also notice in here that at times the score is inappropriately cheerful, and sounds like the kind of muzak normally heard on a Marriott's automatic TV check-out system.

After Ivy drops another set of boots—this is the second, is there some sort of subtext?—she sets her eyes on seducing dad. Now, for me this movie would have an entirely different effect if it starred anyone but Tom Skerritt in the father role, but alas. Then we see Ivy telling Sylvie’s group of disadvantaged kids that she’ll take them to the mall or whatever on the day of Dad’s big party.

Other stuff happens, including Mom’s propensity to lean too far out over the road a few stories down from their balcony, and then it’s the night of the party. Ivy generously offers to help at the party so Sylvie can go off with those kids, then wears one of Cheryl’s dresses, which fits her perfectly. She brings a drink up to Dad—who she knows has a drinking problem—and makes to take it away at the last minute, making it his fault when he takes it. This is how she operates. Meanwhile, Mom is popping pills and looking at the Polaroids she and Tom apparently took in bed while in happier days.

SPOILERS > > >
So after the party Tom is semi-inebriated and Ivy snuggles up close. Mom catches them, but soon Ivy is bringing her a drink and telling her that Tom was weak because he loves his wife so much, and Ivy looked like her in her dress. Mom is snookered and takes the drink, which Ivy has drugged! She passes out and Tom eats Ivy out with Mom in the bed right there! Shockerooney!

So Ivy has seduced Sylvie’s dog with treats, and is wearing Mom’s clothes full time. Sylvie is starting to see the dark side, after spotting a particularly well-lit vodka bottle in her Dad’s closet, and engaging in a fight for her dog’s affections. Ivy then runs off, gets in the car with Dad, and they go somewhere to fuck in the rain! On the hood of the car! Sigh—like I said, anybody but Tom Skerritt.

Having no more need for Mom, Ivy pushes her off the balcony! Okay, now it’s homicide. But everyone thinks she killed herself, and Ivy wears a slinky black number to the funeral. That night Ivy is sleeping in Mom’s bed, and she and Sylvie, after some initial hostilities, have reparative mother therapy as Sylvie confesses all the things she never got to say to bitter, sickly old Mom.

So Sylvie and Ivy fix up Mom’s old convertible and take it out, have an argument, and smash it, sending Sylvie to the hospital. Then she breaks out of the hospital and goes home to find Ivy and Dad fucking from behind on the piano! Now, since Drew Barrymore was sixteen at the time of filming, this movie has to work extra hard to give us all the illicit thrills possible while staying just this side of unforgivable sleaze. This scene was more explicit than I remembered, but then again I was watching the unrated version.

Later on, when Sylvie is having a fair amount of hallucinations of Ivy appearing as her mother, she sees her spooking around Mom’s bedroom in her nightgown. Ivy embraces Sylvie as her mother, but when she tries to slip her some motherly tongue, Sylvie reacts. After a brief struggle, Ivy falls off the balcony, just like Mom! She got her wish to be like her after all.
< < < SPOILERS END

Overall, kind of a weird story. Seems like it belongs in the Young Adult section of your local bookstore. It all seems so tame—even though there is a murder, it just seems like Ivy showed up and there were a few lies and some various manipulations, but…? The whole intimations of teen girls confusing the need for affection with sex, huh. So it runs and it ends and you kind of ask yourself ‘Why did I want to watch this again?’

I suppose this would make a pretty good double-feature with The Crush, if you want to have a little ‘Lethal Lolitas’ film fest. Other than that, yeah, I don’t really have all that much more to say about it.

Should you watch it: 

If you want, I definitely think you could skip it.