Acid Test takes place in the early 1990s. George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot are vying for the Presidency in one of the most followed elections of all time. Jenny (Julia DeStefano, 13 Reasons Why) is heading into her senior year of high school with dreams of attending Harvard. One night while hanging out with friends, she discovers Riot Grrrl music. This leads to a change in her life that has her taking drugs, exploring her Mexican heritage, drifting further away from her father, and defining herself by her own terms.
The 90s is a good time to set a coming of age story. The country was about to face some major changes and anyone who came to adulthood during the time was also going to have to come to terms with them. On the political side, entertainment played a bigger part in the Presidential race than ever before. Musically, grunge had taken over hair metal and would soon be making room for rap. The Simpsons shook television and pop culture on the whole. It was a time of self-discovery and cautious hope.
It is unfortunate that Acid Test never tackles these issues as deeply as it intends to. Inspired by true events from writer-director Jennifer Waldo’s own experiences, the film succeeds at touching on a number of things but never truly exploring any of them. The film feels more like someone looking back on their life than a teenager that is actually discovering the world around them. This does not mean Waldo does a poor job of conveying the era. On the contrary, those who grew up during the time will feel a strong sense of nostalgia.
Ultimately, that may be what holds the film back from the upper pantheon of coming of age stories. It checks off all the right boxes, but ironically never sets about leaving its own mark. Acid Test is able to transport audiences to a different time, and there is a some fun to be had here. It just never has the emotional weight the script is aiming for.
Acid Test opens on digital platforms October 4
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