My Year of Dicks (2022)
Director: Sara Gunnarsdóttir
Screenwriter: Pamela Ribon
Starring: Brie Tilton, Jackson Kelly, Klarissa Hernandez, Chris Elsebroek, Sterling Temple Howard, Mical Trejo, Sean Stack, Chris Kelman, Laura House, Pamela Ribon
My Year of Dicks is probably the 95th Academy Awards’ best film title. And it’s a film that presents exactly what it promises: a year of dicks. The person whose year it is, is screenwriter Pamela Ribon, adapting her own memoir “Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public)”. Pamela was a teenager in the early 90s, and her tale is told across five distinct chapters. In each chapter is an encounter with a dick. Across the length of this 25-minute short film, this very important coming-of-age period for a 15-year-old girl becomes one of the most enchanting stories of the year; Ribon finding that very particular part of growing up that we can all relate to. From idea to construction, from animation to sound to voice acting, My Year of Dicks is magic.
Ribon is credited as creator as well as writer on this Animated Short nominee, the very honest and particular presentation justifying such a personal approach. Live-action footage recorded on a home video camera in 1991 is interspersed with each animated chapter as if title cards intended to remind us of the real human beneath the elation, the heartbreak, the fear, embarrassment and the confusion experienced during this presentation of sexual awakening. In this sense, My Year of Dicks is very much authored, though its uniquely personal presentation only enhances the universality of the experiences shared. Through Pamela Ribon’s own willingness to search the embarrassment of missed opportunities or making mountains out of mole hills, and the honesty of pursuing a sexual awakening as some kind of end point for childhood, it’s easy to look inward. More powerfully, it becomes easier to accept those parts of yourself that (by the time you see this film,) you might have buried.
There’s an energy to My Year of Dicks that is somewhat punk, but it’s the kindness this film spreads that makes for such an engaging and ultimately emotive experience. Boys are gross, yes, but this isn’t about them, it’s about Pam. Pam (Brie Tilton in a fantastic, youthful voice performance) is desperate to transition from what she has always known, she’s besotted by different boys at different times, she’s somewhat self-destructive, she’s unaware of how she’s putting herself in danger. She’s young. And that’s what people do when they’re young. My Year of Dicks is well aware of this. As an adult, it’s easy to look back through the cracks in your fingers and think ‘that was real dumb’, or to cringe at how stupidly you fell for some douchebag for no reason, but as a teenager you can’t help feeling overwhelmed in both good and bad ways, you’re naturally inclined to pursue new experiences, you’ve evolved to have new desires during this period and to not quite know how to handle them. It’s adolescence. My Year of Dicks presents that as well as any great teen movie, and does so in the acknowledgement of how alien and lost it can feel to be such an age. It does so with a coolness that you can never quite establish as a teen, as if the author herself is now the person that little Pam always wanted to be. And better yet, it’s as if cooler, older Pam is reassuring her younger self that little Pam is pretty damn cool regardless.
This is a woman’s story. One that makes a start on filling the gaps left by generations of women storytellers who were ushered into the margins as men took centre stage. Gross-out teen comedies from eras past will no doubt always have a place, but films like My Year of Dicks absolutely should too. Presenting the other side of the objectification that cis heterosexual boys place on girls should be considered vital to our cultural understanding of ourselves, and seeing girls and women experiencing sex and love in an abundance of ways can only help to normalise those life experiences that remain stigmatised to so many.
My Year of Dicks leads with empathy and love first-and-foremost, earning powerful women-forward messaging by its very existence. The punk attitude that underpins everything, that tells us that there’s no limit to how grossly embarrassing these moments can get, that teaches us to love ourselves regardless, is in itself revolutionary. The animation, told in a variety of styles and animated by just a handful of people, is engaging, emotive, at times so creative and different that you can’t help but to smile, the supporting cast is brilliantly accurate to the age they’re playing, and the sound design and score are pitch perfect.
Short films don’t get any more personal than My Year of Dicks, a film so loving, touching, relevant to our times and to our pasts, that it should be added to school curriculums. We could all do with looking at ourselves a little more kindly, and hopefully My Year of Dicks encourages you to do that.