Last week, I took my wife to see the Zac Efron flick "17 Again." I didn't expect much. After all, I think High School Musical and its endless sequels are insipid. I certainly wasn't expecting any morality tales about the virtues of abstinence until marriage. But that's what "17 Again" was -- a tribute to the value of chastity before wedlock.
For those who haven't seen the movie, Matthew Perry plays Mike O'Donnell, a former high school hotshot who passed up a college athletic scholarship to marry his high school sweetheart Scarlet, whom he had impregnated before marriage. It's been 20 years and O'Donnell is stuck in a dead-end job, his marriage is falling apart, and his kids hate him.
Through a contrived series of events, O'Donnell ends up suddenly regaining his youth. He turns into his high school self, played by Zac Efron. O'Donnell enters the local high school, where his daughter Maggie is dating the school sleazebag, Stan.
Pretty typical fare so far. But the movie suddenly shifts into deeper territory during health class. Young Mike is sitting in class with Maggie and Stan when the teacher announces that the official policy of the school is "abstinence only" sex education. She then takes out a giant basket full of condoms and begins passing it around the room, announcing that teens can't be expected to abstain from sex. Stan grabs a giant handful of condoms, leers at Maggie, and states that he'll make sure to take enough.
At this point, Mike stands up and issues a clarion call in favor of abstinence until marriage, explaining, "I don't need one because I am not in love and isn't it called 'making love' for a reason?" You're supposed to be in love before engaging in sex, Mike continues. And not only that -- sex should be reserved for marriage, where the union between two people can produce children. Remembering cradling his newborn daughter in his arms, Mike talks about the responsibilities and magic of fatherhood. "You hope you can always do right by that little girl," he says, as his daughter Maggie sits transfixed by the speech. The girls in the class immediately throw the condoms back in the basket.
It's a wonderful moment in what is a truly brave movie, a film that targets high schoolers and dares to challenge their assumptions about the inevitability of premarital sex, the virtue of self-respect, and the ideal of a two-parent household dedicated to preserving love between parents and preserving innocence for the children.