It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Breaking the Girls" is a film noir that attributes its characters' various crimes to heartbreak, loneliness, hardship and childhood trauma. As its narrative puzzle pieces snap into place, characters of ambiguous morality and sexuality seem to come into focus, only to reveal another layer of deception or confusion.
These twists aren't very interesting or believable, but what kept me watching was the core psychology that director Jamie Babbitt and her actors fight to explore while weighed down by ornamental genre conventions. Underneath it all, we have a few lost, lonely and bitter young women trying to make lives for themselves. Babbitt seems more inspired dealing with the stuff underneath than with the genre mechanics. It takes the sturdiest plot points from "Strangers on a Train" and "Heathers" (minus the latter film's dark comedy) and blends smoothly. Too smoothly, I reckon. Alex (Madelin Zima), the seductress/lost child at the heart of this film, is simply too well-drawn and fascinating for the lockstep cable- movie plot.
Babbit and one of her screenwriters, Guinevere Turner, are old pros in cable TV programming and in groundbreaking works of indie and queer cinema. Turner co-wrote the cult classics "Go Fish" (in which she co-starred) and "American Psycho"; Babbitt is most famous for her sweet coming-out comedy "But I'm a Cheerleader." Both have worked on the lesbian drama "The L Word," of which "Breaking the Girls" sometimes seems a noirish episode. Together, they are masterful at depicting meet cutes, girl crushes, sweet , offbeat romance and the anguish of relationships.
The first act of "Breaking the Girls" shows off these talents with seemingly effortless grace and style. Alex, a spoiled but lonely rich girl draws Sara (Agnes Bruckner), a struggling law student, into her spontaneous, seemingly carefree world of sexual hookups, shoplifting, pool wading and sunset watching. They share some painful bits of their life stories and grow close with a speed to make the heart skip a beat. Kinky titillation and compassion are at odds in so many movies; Babbitt has a gift for making them sing in harmony.