It’s always exciting to see our previously featured filmmakers doing great things and just like Monday’s pick Steakhouse, today’s short sees a filmmaker (and a producer) return to our site with a new film in the running for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar. Adapted from Pamela Ribon’s (Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet) “mortifying” memoir Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public, Sara Gunnarsdóttir’s (The Pirate of Love Vol. 1) award-winning My Year of Dicks transports its viewers back to the early ’90s when House Party 2 had us tapping toes and Pam was desperate to lose her virginity.
Presented in five chapters, each under five minutes long and with names like ‘The Vampire’, ‘Un Gros Penis’ and ‘The Sex Talk’, My Year of Dicks takes its audience through a captivating year where its young protagonist was “determined” to lose her virginity. Like most stories based around this sexual milestone, for Pam things don’t exactly go to plan as she falls for a dagger-nailed wannabe blood sucker, a sleazy cinema employee and a host of other undesirables.
“Animation lets this story be both playful and sincere”
In terms of how the short originated, speaking to creator/writer Ribon she revealed how she was inspired to adapt her memoirs after it was suggested to her by Megan Reid (Vice President, Development at FX Networks) and John Agbaje (SVP of Animation at Bad Robot & former Director of Animation & Development at FX Networks). With animation feeling like the perfect approach to capture her perpetual daydream state as a teenager, it appealed to Ribon as it let the story be “both playful and sincere” and offered “a unique way to show how much we can bend to make a pretty shitty situation seem ‘perfect’.”
Despite the specifics of Pam’s story, there’s a universality to My Year of Dicks that will make it both relatable and transportive to the majority of those who watch it. As a teenager in the ’90s myself, although I wasn’t a 15yr old girl trying to lose my virginity, I did spend a lot of my time trying to get laid and hanging out skateboarding. I also watched The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, because, you know…”I’m cultured”.
You don’t need those reference points to immerse yourself in Gunnarsdóttir’s short though. While the loss of your virginity isn’t seen as a rite-of-passage for all, for the majority of us this moment of sexual awakening is one that lives in our memory banks forever and is a story often swapped between friends. The fact most of us have one of these stories (mine is a little hazy thanks to a lot of cheap cider) means My Year of Dicks has a powerful reflective quality, where even though you’re immersed in the short, you’re also mentally recalling your own experiences. Aaaah! The ’90s really was a magical time!
This relatable aspect of the story is not only key in the film’s appeal, it also played a vital role in bringing Gunnarsdóttir onboard as director, as she explains when discussing her involvement in the short: “Pam invited me to bring her stories to life with her and I was very smitten with her beautiful writing. I love how personal her stories are but at the same time totally universal. I also got very excited to get to make an adult animation content completely from a female perspective. This just isn’t being made and I have a really hard time understanding why.”
The feeling was mutual for writer Ribon as well, as she recalls: “When I saw the way Sara brings a female perspective to the forefront even in a narrative that leans traditionally toward a male point of view, I was like, ‘THIS IS IT.’ Her work reminds me of how it feels to be on the cusp – of change, epiphany, love.”
This bond to the narrative is evident in Gunnarsdóttir’s direction, which is razor sharp throughout. Although she may be bringing someone else’s memoirs to screen, you can sense her affinity to the subject matter throughout the short. Generally, 25-minutes is seen as long for a short film, especially an animated one, but My Year of Dicks never drags and is consistently funny and engaging. Some of this can be attributed to the chapter breakdown of the story, but doing so feels neglectful to the talent of Gunnarsdóttir and her production team (which includes the talents of Josh Shaffner, Grace Nayoon Rhee, Amanda Bonaiuto, Brian Smee, Isabelle Aspin, Kevin Eskew and Cassie Shao).
Aiming for a grounded, authentic aesthetic throughout most of the film, Gunnarsdóttir and her team shot reference videos to help ensure many of the scenes felt “natural”. However, it’s where we slip into Pam’s perspective that things start to get creative. From the sickly sweet anime aesthetic of the fairground scenes to the disturbing vibe at the start of ‘The Horror Show’ chapter, you can tell that a lot of fun was had brining these moments to life. They do more than just provide a little variety in the aesthetic though, these flights of fancy help submerge viewers into Pam’s enterprising thought-process, heightening the drama (and our attachment to it) in the same way she does.
Having won Jury awards at SXSW, Annecy, Raindance, and Ottawa, My Year of Dicks is online for a limited time. With voting for the next round of the Oscars closing on January 17th, we’ll have our fingers crossed that Gunnarsdóttir’s film makes the cut from 15 to five when the nominations are announced on the 24th of the same month.