September 08, 1986 12:00 PM

You might fear the worst about this $1.5 million (the low budget means no stars) Canadian film. Yes, it is another meditation on youth coming of age. And yes, it is set in the ’50s, a maddening movie cliché for a time of innocence. The film’s first line, spoken by a 12-year-old girl, is another setback: “Dear diary, nothing ever happens.” But before you start fidgeting, the girl is played by an enchantress named Margaret Langrick, without a trace of movie-kid mugging. Langrick has never acted before. She won the role because she was a Vancouver neighbor of writer-director Sandy Wilson, previously a documentary filmmaker. Wilson felt a kinship with Langrick, whom she strongly resembles, and since Wilson’s story is largely autobiographical…. Well, you get the point. Langrick (called Sandy in the film) lives on a ranch in the Oka-nagan Lake region of British Columbia. Pretty scenery, sure, but limited for a teenager longing to rock ‘n’ roll in fast cars. One day her 17-year-old cousin from California (a James Dean look-alike) roars into town in a cherry red Caddy, epitomizing the glamour of the States and everything that Langrick thinks she’s been missing. Toronto actor John Wild-man, playing the cousin with a teasing sexuality, takes Langrick and her giggling girlfriends on a speed run in the convertible and a raucous skinny-dip that both terrifies and excites them. Langrick is gaga until she learns that her idol is afraid to face a girl back home whom he may have made pregnant. In March, the film won six Canadian Oscars (called Ge-nies), including Best Picture. Chauvinism may have been a factor. Langrick’s final acceptance of home over flashy packaging must taste sweet to Canadians long dominated by American pop culture. This is not a great film, though the small pleasures it offers are not to be sneered at. In the era of The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller, where teens trade one-liners and wear their psyches on their sleeves, it’s gratifying to find a film with an eye for what kids keep inside. My American Cousin rings with laughter and truth—a rare, welcome combination. (PG)

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