Today's tween and teen audiences know him best as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, the genteel patriarch of a benevolent vampire family in the Twilight Saga and foster father to the brooding Edward Cullen. But long before playing the good doctor, even prior to his turn as a conceited jock in Can't Hardly Wait, Peter Facinelli made a whole different generation of youngsters swoon in another tale about girls and their high school dramarama.
We meet Peter Facinelli butt-first in 1996's Foxfire, naked save for a pair of boots. He poses, nude, in foliage. He runs, in slo-mo, through a stream to the sounds of Canadian rockers Wild Strawberries. He cavorts in the hottest teen styles of the '90s as Ethan, the "great" boyfriend of rollerblading protagonist Maddy Wirtz (Hedy Burress). Facinelli's Ethan may not have been the main attraction in this grrl power drama, but he sure made for a nice side dish.
That is, a dish that even Maddy puts off to the side once bad girl "Legs" Sadovsky (Angelina Jolie) comes into the picture. A liberated wanderer who breezes into town one day to teach the repressed girls of Portland to stand up for themselves, Legs soon brings together four disparate outcasts -- Maddy, Rita (Jenny Lewis, pre-Rilo Kiley/post-Troop Beverly Hills), Goldie (Jenny Shimizu), and Violet (Sarah Rosenberg) -- to form a girl gang of sorts, complete with topless candlelit tattoo rituals and various delinquent shenanigans. No wonder Maddy has little time to make-out with Facinelli's Ethan; the power of Angelina compels her.
The juxtaposition of Maddy's relationships with Ethan and Legs, respectively, explain her increased distance from him. He's the perfect high school boyfriend, yes -- gorgeous, kind, and supportive. But as we see from the film's opening shot, art school-bound Maddy literally sees him through her camera lens, a pretty subject on which she can focus her photographic, and somewhat superficial, artistic energies. He poses playfully for her as if a nude subject in a drawing class: male perfection embodied, from his bare behind to his unruffled personality.
But what Maddy doesn't yet know is that she's looking for something much deeper. She finds that emotional connection with Legs, the leather-jacket wearing tomboy who Jolie imbues with an undeniably smoldering androgynous sexuality. As a result of Jolie and Burress's chemistry and the Sapphic undertones running throughout Foxfire, there's more electric chemistry between Maddy and Legs than in the handful of kisses she shares with Ethan, even if the two female leads never take their homoerotic connection to a physical level.
To his credit, Ethan remains the model boyfriend even as he realizes that Maddy is pulling away from him (telltale sign: there's nobody around to take nude Polaroids of him in the forest anymore). When the heretofore quiet and artsy Maddy beats up an abusive teacher and gets a flame tattooed on her breast, he doesn't bat an eye; instead he pauses, in wistful contemplation, as the camera lingers on his tortured, delicate features. He knows he's losing Maddy, and he doesn't make a big stink about it. What a guy! Sadly for Facinelli fans, his Ethan shows up less and less as the film progresses -- but then it was never about him.
Foxfire, directed by Annette Haywood-Carter and adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates novel, was the then 23-year-old Facinelli's fifth film (including the TV movie thriller An Unfinished Affair, another 1996 project on which he met future wife Jennie Garth). His late '90s work in the years that followed bore some of his best-known roles, including two different post-high school teen flicks with their own respective followings: Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 and Can't Hardly Wait. Personally, my favorite P. Fach role of all time was on the short-lived TV series "Fastlane." (Am I the only one who owns it on DVD? Someone call up Bill Bellamy and get to work on a Fastlane feature film, already!)
But of course, the '00s and '10s have been good to the still-boyish actor: a fan favorite on "Nurse Jackie," Facinelli's set to make his producing-screenwriting debut with the 2011 romantic comedy Loosies. And of course, there are those vampire movies; expect the good doctor Cullen to see some action in the final two Twilight films. Below, my personal gift to all of you Team Carlisle Twi-hards...