Hollywood navigates virgin territory -- From ''American Pie'' to ''Never Been Kissed,'' chastity proves profitable

Hollywood — a town where the most virginal thing is the olive oil at the Ivy — has lately become obsessed with sexual innocence, of all things. Virginity plotlines are popping up on screens big (see: Cruel Intentions, Elizabeth, The Theory of Flight) and small (see: Felicity, Dawson’s Creek, and That ’70s Show). And fasten your chastity belts, folks; there are plenty more virgins in the pipeline, including the horny-high-school-guys comedy American Pie, a Losin’ It for the ’90s; Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore as a chaste journalist returning to high school for an assignment; and Wasteland, Kevin Williamson’s new ABC drama featuring an unspoiled 26-year-old heroine.

The current maiden madness seems to be a natural result of the avalanche of teen entertainment. ”Each age that you go through has its defining moments,” says director Doug Liman (Swingers), whose new movie, Go, stars Katie Holmes as a sexual innocent. ”You can’t do a film about teenagers and not have virginity come up.”

Of course, the undefiled aren’t exactly virgin territory. Will she or won’t she? has been a standard narrative device for ages (see: the goddess Athena). Slightly more recently, there was Tori Spelling’s purity dance on Beverly Hills 90210 a few years back. And before that, Madonna brought the whole subject into the spotlight with her ironic ”Like a Virgin” tease.

But this new era of virgin chic also has a surprisingly dark hue to it. Many of Hollywood’s current projects seem obsessed not with exalting innocence, but with the dire consequences of losing it. ”All this virginity in Hollywood is coming from the 20-year-olds who are now writing this stuff and who are all dealing with AIDS and abstinence,” says Nancy Juvonen, producer of Never Been Kissed. ”We all scoffed at it in high school, but right now all these people out there are telling us to stay virgins.”

Witness Intentions and The Rage: Carrie 2, two racy flicks in which young women finally do the deed, only to set off a deadly chain of events. Similarly, when Sarah Michelle Gellar gave it up last year on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her enamorado morphed back into a soulless vampire who didn’t return calls. And in Elizabeth, the fallout from Cate Blanchett’s fall from grace is so grim that one of her first acts as queen is to ”restore” her virgin status. Nooky as the road to ruin? Why, it’s downright old-fashioned. ”It has to do with the new morality that comes from the limitations on sexual freedom” in the age of AIDS, says Joseph Pierson, codirector of Cherry, an upcoming feature about a 29-year-old virgin.

That’s right: a 29-year-old virgin. One clever way to cash in on the teen-movie boom seems to be to co-opt their narrative conflicts. So get ready for virgins, the next generation. Consider three upcoming projects: Virgin Mary, featuring Jennifer Aniston as a 29-year-old so distraught about her failure to find a worthy sex partner, she hires a hitman to off herself; the above-mentioned indie flick Cherry, starring model Shalom Harlow as a bitter, jilted-at-the-altar aging pure heart; and Wasteland, Williamson’s upcoming TV drama about a tormented 26-year-old you-know-what. (Williamson says he based the character on a real-life acquaintance: ”I have a friend who is almost 30, and she’s a virgin. I didn’t believe her when she told me. She swore to me she’s going to lose her virginity the night the episode premieres.”)

American Pie
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