Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 22, 2019)
For a dark turn on the character drama, we go to 1972’s Toys Are Not For Children. When her father (Peter Lightstone) disappears from her life, Jamie Godard (Tiberia Mitri) finds herself in a state of arrested development.
This means that as an adult (Marcia Forbes), Jamie remains preoccupied with childish endeavors, especially toys. Oddly, despite her age, she still receives new playthings from her wayward father, as he apparently continues to view her as a child.
Jamie’s state of mind makes it impossible for her to consummate her marriage to handsome Charlie Belmond (Harlan Cary Poe), but this doesn’t mean she rejects sex in all forms. After she meets aging prostitute Pearl Valdi (Evelyn Kingsley), Jamie goes down a winding path of dangerous fantasies.
During the film’s opening shot, we see a fully-nude Jamie while she essentially masturbates with a stuffed bear and moans “Daddy!” over and over.
With a start like that, one expects a steamy, boundary-pushing affair. One would anticipate incorrectly, as this opening acts as nothing more than a tease.
At least as far as titillation goes, that is, for Toys does manage some pretty nutso content as it goes. What it lacks in sexy-sexy time, it compensates with dramatic material.
In theory, at least, as the movie boasts the potential to become a deep examination in abuse and the psychological damage done. Unfortunately, this silly, amateurish affair musters no impact.
On the surface, one could place Toys among other late 1960s/early 1970s movies that featured women who broke out against societal limitations. If one wanted, one could view Jamie as a woman who rebels against conventional demands and “lives her best life” via the pursuit of her own untraditional sexual desires.
That interpretation would ignore a whole lot of character points, though. Sure, Jamie becomes self-empowered as the movie goes, but she does so as a prostitute who apparently only services much older men she can call “daddy”.
Oh, and by the way, Jamie actively seeks to have sex with her own long-absent father.
This isn’t Rochelle, Rochelle. Jamie doesn’t embark on an innocent girl’s journey toward womanhood as she travels from Milan to Minsk.
Let me repeat: Jamie actively seeks to have sex with her own long-absent father.
And – spoiler alert! – she succeeds, with mortifying ramifications. And confusion, to be honest, given what the movie showed prior to this disturbing climax.
While not explicit, Toys implies that Jamie’s dad sexually abused her as a child – or at least I inferred that. Because the movie doesn’t clearly show this, I can’t say for certain, but given Jamie’s extreme psychological damage, it makes sense.
However, when Jamie’s dad finds out he just boned his daughter, he reacts with revulsion. If he abused her sexually in her youth, would he feel so upset that he did it again with an adult Jamie?
That doesn’t seem logical to me, but neither does much else about the scattered Toys. The film bears the mark of the post-Easy Rider school of semi-formless storytelling, but those behind it lack the skill to create a coherent tale.
Expect a non-linear narrative, and in better hands, that could work. Here, however, Toys just becomes a muddled mess.
For instance, Jamie marries Charlie with no real development or warning. A later flashback gives us a bit of explanation, but this doesn’t compensate for the befuddling leap we get in the first place, and the film suffers for its jagged storytelling.
This becomes a particular problem due to Jamie’s nature. When she and Charlie wed, he expects a little wedding night somethin’-somethin’, which seems logical.
Jamie refuses, and Charlie appears surprised. However, wouldn’t he already know that she’s… different? A hot young woman who obsesses over her toys and moons over daddy seems to boast a slew of warning signs, but the movie never offers an explanation why Charlie would believe otherwise.
Some scenes involved in their courtship would help. We’d see their interactions and potentially comprehend what logical expectations Charlie could enjoy.
Without those scenes, we’re left hanging and confused, and even when later flashbacks arrive, they don’t make the tale any more coherent. Despite the potential to explore Jamie’s mental state and various psycho-sexual themes, the movie rambles and feels like the filmmakers made it up as they went.
It doesn’t help that Toy suffers from terrible acting and a total soap opera feel. The movie overdoes everything and goes campy enough that it lacks the dramatic impact it desires.
Rather than deliver any form of realism, Toys feels shrill and histrionic. The actors present cartoon characters who lack any semblance of realism.
As basic “sexploitation” material, Toys flops. As a psychological portrait of a badly damaged woman, Toys flops. As a competent film, Toys flops.