My Year with Dicks is a hilarious and highly innovative mini film that was
nominated (and lost) for Best Animated Short at the 2023 Academy Awards
ceremony. Despite its rather vulgar title, the film deals with its subject
sensitively and intelligently; it is a frank look at a serious subject of teen
female sexuality. It is not the feminist version of Porky’s or Sauasagefest. It
is much closer in spirit to the indie film A 24, Eighth Grade or the classic TV
series, My So Called Life (which I recently saw again) because it is a highly
personal film with rare moments of emotional honesty told from the perspective
of a young female.
The film makes excellent use of rotoscoping, a technique in which live action
frames are traced to create often realistic animation. Other notable films that
use rotoscoping include American Pop, The Black Cauldron, Chico and Rita. Heavy
Metal, Little Mermaid, Tron, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Waking Life, the great
Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, and the Disney classic Fantasia (one of my
favorite animated films ever). Even though the character always denies he is a
raccoon, the character Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy was created by rotoscoping
over a real raccoon. The technique was also used to great effect in many
alternative and indie rock videos such as the Offspring’s The Kids Aren't
Alright, 21rst Century Breakdown by Green Day, and Fell in Love with a Girl by
The White Stripes.
The movie’s genesis occurred in 1991 when the 15 year old Pamela Ribon decided
to lose her virginity and chronicled her different misadventures with mostly
unworthy males in her novel Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in
Public, which was adapted into the film. I will refrain from revealing whether
she succeeds in her quest because it would spoil the film.
Ribon, who serves as the narrator for the film (vocalized by Brie Tilden) has
had an interesting career in many different forms of post riot-grrl female
centered indie media forms. She was a contributor to the website Hissy fit and
the Television without Pity program as well as co-hosting the podcast, Listen to
Sassy. She was also the screenplay writer for Oscar nominee, Ralph Breaks the
Internet and Oscar winner, Moana. She and the director both are likely to have
highly promising futures.
The novel and film are told from the point of view of a very awkward and
self-conscious young girl who lives near Houston, and often has as many problems
getting what she wants as the boys she is pursuing. The film is broken into five
parts each dealing with one opportunity with a male jerk or dick hence the title
(including a skateboarding wanna be vampire and an opportunistic straight edge
kid) that goes wrong in a different way. Each segment was told in a totally
different animation but effective style.
Much of the excellent eye-popping narration is done in rotoscoping based on
live performances done by the director Sara Gunnarsdottir (the first female
Icelandic director that was nominated for an Oscar.) who also made the great
Diary of a Teenage Girl which blended live action and animation. There is a
terrific section in the film about halfway through that is clearly in anime
style. The segments explore or parody different genres such as supernatural
romance, skateboard adventure, cringe comedy, horror and anime.
The film is currently featured on Hulu where it is free to subscribers and Vimeo
where anyone can see it for free. This lively, invigorating 25 minute cartoon
masterpiece has creativity to spare and is certainly worth seeking out. I have
seen it several times and I discovered more and liked it more each time I saw it. Despite its brief
length, I found it even more rewarding than the admittedly wonderful,
Everywhere All at Once
and it compares well with other full length and short Oscar nominees.