Review of Sara Gunnarsdóttir’s My Year of Dicks
My Year of Dicks (2022). 24min. Directed by Sara Gunnarsdóttir and written by Pamela Ribon. Featuring Brie Tilton, Jackson Kelly, Klarissa Hernandez and Chris Elsenbroek.
I loved some of 2023’s Oscar nominations so much that Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish made their way to the top of my little “what to watch” recommendation checklist. We’ve all heard of these hits for a reason. They’re fantastic! But often it’s the films that fly under the radar that compel me the most. The joy of sharing a lesser-known film with my friends as a niche bonding experience is unmatched for me. With that in mind, I Googled “Oscar Nominations 2023” and discovered Best Animated Short Film, a category I had overlooked. How could this category have gone over my head when I am an animator? Even for someone at the beginning of her career, I should have known about it. But then again, it isn’t just particular films that fly under the radar. Entire genres of film, like the animated short, do too. Determined to remedy my oversight, I watched this year’s nominations, and I’m here to recommend My Year of Dicks to you. I mean, whose eyes wouldn’t this title catch in a selection of what’s commonly perceived as films for kids? I’m pleased to report I now have another twenty-five minutes of animated genius to share with my friends.
Dicks, directed by Sara Gunnarsdóttir is a 2022 animated short based on Ribon’s 2013 memoir, Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public). Dicks explores being a teen in the early 90s through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Pam on a quest to lose her virginity. The film is divided into five “chapters:” “The Vampire,” “Un Gros Penis,” “The Sweet One,” “The Horror Show,” and “The Sex Talk.” As you watch them, it becomes clear that navigating sexuality as a young girl is an even harder task when a whirlwind of, well, insufferable dicks, is piled on top of the already extensive list of expectations society places on women and their sexuality. I’d elaborate further, but the chapter titles should give you a sense of where this is going.
Helping paint the visceral pictures of Pam’s experiences with consecutive scummy guys in Dicks are the images and sounds that Gunnarsdóttir and the films’ team of animators created for each chapter. The animation style is psychedelic, colorful, and moody. This choice mirrors the ever-so-palpable teenage years and complex young “love” with which most of us are familiar. Pam’s train of thought travels through wildly different lenses; a smorgasbord of genres from Noir, to Anime, to Victorian Period Piece as new boys infiltrate her fantasies. The animation style in Chapter Two, “Un Gros Penis,” mirrors classic noir and black and white romance films with occasional pops of color from Pam’s imagination. Pam tries to court movie theater projectionist Wally in this chapter then quickly learns he’s an opportunist scumbag and the setting becomes as dingy and grimy as Wally’s character. It doesn’t help that the setting is the theater janitor’s closet.
Opposite to “Un Gros Penis” in style is Chapter Three, “The Sweet One.” With sunshine, rainbows, and a boatload of pink flood, this is a whimsical county fair sequence. Third wheeling and grounding her back in reality is her best friend, Sam, who notices that Pam’s infatuation with “sweet” Robert may be unrequited. In Pam’s shifty world of Dicks, Sam seems the only constant in both presence and animation style; Sam’s character design remains unchanged in contrast to the other guys, whose designs change over time to reflect their undesirable personalities. Their true characters are revealed with changes like Pam’s ex morphing into a grotesque wolf, or Wally transforming from colorful romance movie heartthrob to greasy, desperate movie theater employee.
Illustrations of Pam’s unfruitful attempts to lose her virginity and the people around her are fantastical, yet so real, according to the mind of a teenage girl. Having been one myself, I can tell that overwhelming emotion and fantasy rule. Dicks is a tender, heartfelt letter to the inner naive teen—and others out there who’ve had the same encounters with the same dicks growing up.
I went into it thinking My Year of Dicks would be just another fun piece of animation to share with my girlfriends. That remains true, but like I said, watching it felt like a love letter to teenage Izzy, and I’m sure it’ll feel the same for my girlfriends’ inner teens. I didn’t know I needed it until I watched it and nor will my friends until we watch it together. Pam’s voice in My Year of Dicks will remain a story I share with every girl and former girl I know.