Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1996)

There’s an entire lineage of neglected female-minded American indie movies running parallel to the those solidly established in the canon. So alongside Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Hal Hartley, or Kevin Smith’s movies you have films like Susan Siedelman’s Smithereens, Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging. And then there’s Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore, which is about as scrappy, raw and obscure as 90s indie movies get. It’s also one of the best.

The sole feature film by Sarah Jacobson, whose career was tragically cut short when she died aged just thirty two, is a riot grrrl yell of rebel filmmaking. The film concerns itself with a circle of friends who either work or hang out at a dingy cinema, and is fuelled by their frank and astute conversations about sex, friendships, insecurity, shitty jobs and any number of other twenty-something Gen-X concerns. It’s a film about the little things, the little people in life, the things that mean everything when there’s nothing else to worry about. The way Jacobson so casually immerses you in this particularly specific orbit is a real delight. It is playful and humane, full of curious observations and empathy but it retains a realistic edge, especially in its depiction of sexuality, that feels transgressive.

The brazen and explicit approach to Mary Jane’s sexcapades, further dirtied down by the lack of light and noisy 16mm photography, not done to shock but simply to depict, warts and all, no doubt laid a groundwork that people like Lena Dunham (Girls) and Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) would expand on decades later. It is wholly sex-positive, but doesn’t skip the messiness as well as the trial and error that comes with a young woman slowly discovering her own body and gaining confidence in her own pleasure.

As a portrait of 90s twenty-something female neurosis, Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore is a wonder. As a feat of DIY, lo-fi filmmaking, it is an unsung lightning bolt. It achieves everything Clerks strives for but with a more astute eye and from a more radical perspective. It’s exactly the kind of idiosyncratic, singular voice-fuelled discovery that really gets me excited about independent filmmaking and swooning over the creativity and will-power that dreamed it up. How incredibly sad that we never got more Sarah Jacobson movies. Her voice was silenced way too soon but thankfully, through this film, you can still hear it scream so loud.

Watched on AGFA blu-ray

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