Criminal girls x 3: my take on a running theme of 2013
There must be something in the air.
This year I’ve seen three movies about gangs of more or less unsympathetic young women taking a criminal route.
The similarities are not as glaring as when Antz and a Bug’s Life were launched at the same time or to go further back in time Vice Versa and Big. I’m not convinced that the studios have been spying on each other this time. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, maybe we’ve come to a point when the cinema audience was ready for it.
A Swedish fellow blogger of mine thinks it’s wrong and unfair to bunch up Foxfire, The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, writing about them all in one take. The world has seen many movies about young criminal men and you don’t necessarily toss them together, so isn’t it a bit dismissive to do it when it when it’s about women?
On some level I can agree with her, but nevertheless I’ve decided to do exactly the opposite to what she asks for: I’ll write about them all in one go because it comes natural to me. My brain will put them in the same box. While they’re wildly different in style, I react to them pretty much in the same way.
What those girls all have in common is disconnection. The young women are disconnected from the world, from themselves and from their inner moral compasses. This also makes it hard for the viewer to connect. Speaking for myself I couldn’t relate to them at all. I was disconnected to what I saw happening on the screen
It might have to do with my general dislike and distrust for big, loud groups of girls, something I’ve felt ever since. There’s this glimpse of recognition. I remember the type too well from school. Perhaps you’ve encountered them too: the girls who were popular at school, those who defied the chewing gum prohibition during lessons, who smoked, chattered and whispered all the time, wore make-up, shoplifted, skipped classes and got rides on motorcycles by boys in jeans jackets. It was the girls that would give you snarky comments if you did too well in test, so you’d better keep it a secret. I’ve never ever in my life been a part of such a group. I have feared them. I have loathed them. But I’ve never befriended them and because of them I was relieved when the ninth grade at high school was over and I’d never have to meet them again. Ever.
With all those associations, it’s absolutely impossible to root for a group of loud, obnoxious girls either they’re obsessing over the belongings to celebrities or taking drugs and dancing all night long in an orgy at the beach. I want to keep myself at a distance from them and watching them on a big screen, I couldn’t help hoping that someone would catch them and take them in custody.
Before you get upset about this, I know that the movies have fans out there, especially in the case of Spring Breakers, I want to reassure you. Just because you can’t connect, it doesn’t necessarily make a movie bad, even if it’s harder to embrace it all out. I thought Johnny in Naked was a horrible, unlikable character and I yet I think it’s a brilliant film (although I don’t feel any urges to watch it again.)
Those three films aren’t as special as Naked and will probably not make it into my top 10 of 2013. But they’re all high quality movies. Each one of them is interesting, I’m glad that I watched them and I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of seeing them (though I’d warn them off about Spring Breakers, pointing out that it far from being the comedy it’s marketed as, is a dark and depressing film. ) For various reasons, they’re interesting, I’m glad that I watched them and I wouldn’t advise anyone against doing the same. OK? Are we good so far?
Then I’ll move on and talk a little bit about each one of them.
Foxfire was the first one that I watched. This is a French movie based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Taking place in the 1950s we follow a group of teenage girls who forming a secret club try to take charge of their own lives. Their first enterprises are about getting back at a male teacher and other men who have treated them like crap and kind of deserve it.
But after a while things will get rougher, their crimes more severe and the further they go, the harder is it to empathise with them. We also see how the group dynamics change over time. Leaders will appear and disappear, members will join and leave, obeying or revolting against the current leadership
This is the movie where I most strongly felt that I was supposed to sympathise to some extent with the protagonists. For a short while in the beginning I did. I can imagine that being a woman in a small rural town in US in this time was pretty hopeless if you wanted more with your life than just be there to please the men around you. Their first actions, while brutal, were understandable. But it didn’t take long before I had run out of sympathies for the ladies. Their little club seemed to be a poisonous place in the long run. All I wished was that they’d dissolve it, starting to pursue happiness without robbing, threatening or beating up other people.
The Bling Ring
Next out was The Bling Ring, based on a true story about a group of girls (and one boy, which I obviously ignore in this review since he doesn’t fit into my “girl gang” theme, but interesting enough he’s the most sympathetic one out of the bunch) who successfully did burglaries in the house of celebrities in Hollywood for a period of time.
This is a little strange piece of a movie. There isn’t all that much going on, at a dramatic level. They go to houses. They steal stuff. They brag about it and spend the money. Rinse and repeat until they’re caught. There’s no remorse, not really any character development, no tipping point, no ethical dilemma that craves for a solution.
I don’t get what motivates them. Why do they need all those things so badly? They seem to be well off as it is, so what’s their problem? I don’t understand thecelebrities either. Is this what they do with the money they earn? It’s supposed to be shot in the real home of Paris Hilton, so I guess it’s close to the truth. It disgusted me to see her wardrobe. It disgusted me to see the girls wanting to take things from it. I didn’t care for the girls but I didn’t care much for the celebrities either. It made me long for real things, things that matter. To sense the soft skin of an infant, to eat a homemade bread fresh from the oven, so warm that the butter will melt on it. The smell of freshly cut grass.
I’m not sure though if this is what Coppola wanted me to think. Her position is a riddle to me. The movie observes, but does it try to say anything or does it just leave it all to the viewer to make her own interpretation? That can work both ways. You may enjoy not being steered in a certain direction. Or you may feel frustrated at the vagueness, considering it a sign of laziness and that the director obviously doesn’t know what she wants to say.
For me it worked pretty well. But then I’m a big fan of Coppola, so it’s possible that I’m giving her some slack she doesn’t quite deserve. However: again it’s a movie that works for me on an intellectual level. My heart was never in it, not the slightest.
So, finally we have Spring Breakers. This is the weirdest of the movies. It didn’t take me many minutes before I really disliked the gang, with my whole being. I was a little bit surprised by the direction it took. From the marketing I had expected some kind of comedy, but it turned out to be dark, disturbing and disgusting. The gang is by far the most repulsive of the three films discussed in this post. I don’t see the empowerment of women that I’ve seen some enthusiastic reviewers raving about; I don’t see a feminist message hidden among the tits, asses and guns. What I see is a group of women doing terrible things without any remorse.
It’s been quite a while since I watched A Clockwork Orange, but that’s where my associations went: to another group of young people completely void of compassion and empathy. But in A Clockwork Orange something happens. One of the young men is forced into treatment to change the way his brain is wired, and the movie as well as the novel it’s based on puts up the question if this treatment can be justified and where the free will comes in, if I remember it correctly. There’s no equivalence of this in Spring Breakers. The “party” goes on and on and on and like in The Bling Ring I’m not sure about what point the film is trying to make, if there even is one.
Perhaps asking for points is to ask too much. There is a dreamlike quality in this film. The energy is high most of the time thanks to the music and the camera work. It’s kind of pretty. Maybe I should leave it at this, not asking for a meaning. I’ve seen it suggested that the events in the movie not necessarily take place at all. It’s all just in the heads of the girls, a dream, a fantasy world where they’re imagining how it would be to leave civilization behind them and act out on their desires and impulses. But I don’t buy into this theory. I think it cheapens the movie. “It was a dream. Bobby is alive, taking a morning shower”. No thanks, I’m better off with the falling down of those girls, as inexplicable as it is
Did we need this?
One question is hanging in the air. Why is it that it’s suddenly so popular to make movies about groups of criminal young women?
I think it might be a sign of progression. Until now it’s been quite rare to have genuinely unlikable women in movies. In nine movies out of ten, women are portrayed as nice. Most of the time they’re there to support and inspire the male protagonist. Often they’re victims of crime and abuse. Occasionally they’re strong and heroic, but that’s rare. If they play an “evil” role, they’re often more teasing and charming than genuinely bad.
As nice as it may appear, the idea that women are special, good hearted angels, is also quite limiting, in the long run. What we need is a balance view. Women are like men: human, with all the flaws and assets that come with it.
A gang of criminal young women is no better than its male equivalence. They’re bad people doing bad things and should be judged as this.
We probably needed those movies. But to be honest: I’ve had enough of this concept for a while. Three is enough for one year. If there’s any more of this in pipeline, please put it on hold until next year at least
Foxfire (Laurent Cantet, FR 2012) My rating: 4/5
The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, US 2013) My rating: 4/5
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, US 2013) My rating: 4/5