Thirteen year old schoolgirl Vic (Sophie Marceau) starts a new school in Paris where her attention soon turns to boys. At a party, she meets Mathieu, and it is love at first sight. He seems to like Vic too but his cool behaviour at school the next day proves upsetting. Vic's parents, François (Claude Brasseur) and Françoise (Brigitte Fossey) are patient and understanding but preoccupied with their own relationship issues. So Vic turns to her liberal-minded grandmother, Poupette (Denise Grey) who contrives to bring her and Mathieu together during a stay in Deauville, despite knowing where this first fling will likely end.
Though little known in England and the United States, La Boum was a smash hit across Europe and Asia establishing then-thirteen year old Sophie Marceau as a huge star. Long before choice roles in Braveheart (1995) and The World is Not Enough (1999) alerted the johnny-come-lately mainstream to Marceau's talent, French film-goers fell in love with her as cute, wide-eyed, puppy love-struck Vic Beretton. Viewed today the film comes across a fluffy, endearing but inconsequential offshoot from the strand of more profound French studies of adolescence that grew out of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and Rene Clement's Forbidden Games (1952) which of course starred a young Brigitte Fossey. At the same time, La Boum's wryly affectionate portrayal of precocious youngsters at odds with their befuddled baby-boomer parents foreshadows millennial dramas like LOL (2008) which of course stars a mature Sophie Marceau as a concerned parent. See? It all came full circle.
Structurally the Truffaut film La Boum most resembles is L'Argent de Poche (1976) a.k.a. Small Change a.k.a. Pocket Money though it is worth noting Claude Pinoteau had a precedent with this sort of story with his early comedy La Gife (1974) which starred yet another future award-winning actress and scorching sex symbol, Isabelle Adjani. Both the Truffaut film and La Boum unfold at a rapid clip through a string of vignettes, toss out cartoon gags (e.g. a montage where Vic tries on loads of funny outfits, a slapstick sequence with François stumbling on rollerskates) and profound observations in equal measure, and counterbalance the central protagonist's coming of age romance with an ensemble study of some likeable yet believably smart-mouthed and sex obsessed kids. Vic's best friend Penelope (Sheila O'Connor) is a boy crazy minx forever contriving new ways to sneak out at night, her kid sister Samantha (Alexandra Gonin) has a comical crush on François, and one of the boys pulls the old cock-in-a-popcorn box gag two years before Mickey Rourke in Diner (1982). Yet whereas Truffaut grounded his whimsy with a poetic insight into childhood anxieties, Pinoteau's film comes across like a fifty-something's romanticized ode to rambunctious youth.
One reason why the film failed to connect with English speakers might be the gulf that separates our attitudes to adolescence, sex and romance from those of our Gallic cousins. Pinoteau, a prolific screenwriter for Claude Lelouch before debuting as a director with the stylish thriller Le Silencieux (1973), takes a more measured, even indulgent view of Vic's quest to spend the night with her beloved Matthieu than would have been acceptable in a British film from this period prior to the groundbreaking TV show, Skins. In a plot twist only the French could get away with in a family movie both of Vic's parents end up having affairs: papa with his voracious mistress, mama in revenge with a handsome schoolteacher. Pinoteau nicely contrasts the more innocent adolescent romance with the inherent complexities of adult relationships yet unwisely keeps the grownup and child strands of the plot separate. Indeed Vic is rarely aware or exhibits much interest in anyone's problems other than her own. When Matthieu inadvertently picks a fist fight with François after mistaking him for Vic's lover, she could not be more thrilled. While Marceau is beguiling in the role and even at this stage possessed one of the most heart-melting smiles in cinema, Vic comes across as flighty and self-involved. Traits that aren't too appealing in a movie heroine albeit not unrealistic for a teenager. Nevertheless the film proved so successful she re-teamed with Pinoteau for La Boum 2 (1982).