In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_sea_of_trees_ver5

The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees uses depression, cancer and suicide as manipulative devices to tug at heartstrings instead of offering even the slightest insight into the…

Thumb_dont_breathe

Don't Breathe

Don’t Breathe gets a little less interesting as it proceeds to its inevitable conclusion, but it works so well up to that point that your…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Girls Town

  |  

Near the beginning of “Girls Town” there is a scene where two high school girls have a heart-to-heart talk while sprawled on a bed, reading a journal. It's one of those moments when the whole future seems filled with promise, even if the destinies are different: Emma (Anna Grace) and Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis) talk about their school plans, and Emma is quietly surprised that Nikki, who is going to Princeton, still hasn't signed up for housing.



The next day Nikki's delay is easier to comprehend. She has committed suicide. Her closest friends cannot understand, and during a visit to Nikki's home, they steal her journal and read it for themselves, discovering that Nikki was raped while working as an intern at a local magazine.

This information simmers beneath the surface of “Girls Town” as we learn more about Nikki's three friends, who are Patti (Lili Taylor), Angela (Bruklin Harris) and Emma. They are tough but not hardened, self-defined outsiders with a strong feminist code they don't talk much about. Their racial balance (two whites, two African Americans) shows their willingness to stand outside the cliques of high school and choose their friends instead of letting teenage society dictate to them. Angela and Emma are headed for college; Patti, a single mother, “has been let back so many times that what is she now? Forty?” During the film, the young women will talk a lot, in conversations that sound natural and unforced; I understand the screenplay was developed partly through improvisations by the actors. They realize they never really knew Nikki, even though they thought she was their best friend, and they reveal their own secrets. Emma reveals that she has also been raped. Patti, who has a shaky relationship with Eddie, the loser father of her child, observes, “They wanna have sex with you, you don't want to have sex with them, they gonna get it. You call that rape, I been raped by about every guy I been out with.” The girls paint a mural in Nikki's memory, and while it provides some consolation, it is finally not enough. Gradually, fueled by the logic of their conversations, many of which take place on the roof of the dugout on the school's baseball field, the three decide on more direct measures. They vandalize the car of the classmate who raped Emma, and then they decide to go after the smug and uncaring older man who raped Nikki.

The bare bones of the plot of “Girls Town” are not much more subtle than the events in a 1970s exploitation picture like the recently (and unnecessarily) revived “Switchblade Sisters.” But nuance is everything, and the movie's qualities are in the performances and dialogue. We hear the convincing sound of smart teenage girls uncomfortably trying to discover and share the truth about themselves, and we sense the social structure of the school in scenes (usually in the women's washroom) where the three confront their “popular” classmates.

In every high school there are always “popular” students and various groups of outsiders. It is always thought better to be “popular.” One of the lessons of “Girls Town” is that popularity is based on the opinion of others, while an outsider chooses that status on the basis of her opinion of herself. We see Patti, Emma and Angela behaving unwisely and recklessly in “Girls Town,” but we also see them growing, and trying themselves, and discovering who they are. It is a painful process--so painful, many people never do it. I would like to see another movie in three or four years, about what has happened to these angry, gifted friends.



Popular Blog Posts

Hollywood Gave Up on You: The Summer Movies of 2016

A look back at how this summer's best offering, Netflix's "Stranger Things," makes the failure of this season's block...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Dirty Politics May Ruin Distribution, Oscar Chances of Phenomenal "Aquarius"

Pablo Villaça reports on the sad status of Brazil's government and its possible effect on a phenomenal new film from ...

The Top 11 Female Film Characters of All Time

All month, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has been counting down the top 55 female film characters of all tim...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus