The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Criminal girls x 3: my take on a running theme of 2013

with 26 comments

spring breakers

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.

Disconnection
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
Foxfire
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.

 

blingring

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.

 

Spring Breakers
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

Written by Jessica

July 24, 2013 at 1:00 am

26 Responses

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  1. You liked “The Bling Ring” yay!!!! I understand your qualms with the film but for me, it is a film that plays into many other stories that Sofia Coppola does. Disconnection and the yearn to connect where these kids want to be in that world of celebrity culture and wear the clothes and have the things those celebs have. Yet, there’s a price to be paid for their actions where some have remorse for what happen while others are hoping it will lead them to fame or infamy.

    ninvoid99

    July 24, 2013 at 1:33 am

    • I basically like everything she does. Unless most others I’ve encountered I liked Somewhere. And Lost in Translation is one of my favorite movies, ever, fighting for the number 1 position with Blade Runner.
      She’s indeed very good at conveying the sense of disconnection.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm

  2. Great post! Need to check these out and see where I stand. Maybe I’ll have my own “criminal girls” marathon.

    fernandorafael

    July 24, 2013 at 8:42 am

    • Thank you! I hope you’ll get to them. Such a marathon would be cool; perhaps you could include some earlier films. There surely must be more in the genre.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      • Maybe I could start with Thelma and Louise or something!

        fernandorafael

        August 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm

        • That’s an excellent choice as far as I remember it (haven’t seen it since about its release). It’s admittedly a very small gang with only two in it, but I think it could qualify nevertheless.

          Jessica

          August 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  3. Interesting piece Jessica. I’ve not seen any of these films yet but it’s a very intriguing trend. It could be pure coincidence or it could be a conscious effort to try and have more female protagonists. Not sure to be honest!

    • Thanks! I think they’re all well worth watching. I’m not sure about the intentions here but I guess it says something about the time we live in.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm

  4. I thought you were on vacation…

    Ryan McNeil

    July 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm

  5. Good insight on how the type of story is probably necessary, but that it’s a little hard to take so many on the same theme all at once. While there have always been “boy gang” movies, I think even that would start to feel a little tired by the third one within a year.

    As to why there are so many of the “girl gang” movies this year, I think a lot of it is probably due to the fact that The Bling Ring is based on an actual event. The others may not be deliberately ripping off the film, but I strongly suspect the original event was an inspiration to all three films.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    July 25, 2013 at 2:13 am

    • Well Foxfire isn’t since it’s based on a novel written in 1993. But I guess that the events still could have inspire another adaptation to be made at this point.
      I guess it’s “something in the air”. Maybe it’s just some phase we need to get through.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm

  6. A nice read. Concerning Spring Breakers, I will encourage to search for points and meanings, not ONE point and ONE meaning, but many. Because that’s what I se and it makes the film more interesting to don’t lock oneself up to look for singular points and meanings, or don’t look for it at all. I see Spring Breakers as a movie that qestions how we look at feminism and sexism and (if we are open for it) can make us re-think how we judge with our feministic or sexistic mind.

    Except Fear Filmblogg

    July 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    • Thanks! Yeah, maybe I need to see it again to fully embrace it. I can’t say that I’m overly eager to do that though. As much as I enjoyed the style of it, I really thought they were horrible people, doing horrible things. That’s not feminism the way I see it. It’s evilness.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm

  7. Great insight with these three films; I’ve actually never heard of Foxfire. I knew little about Spring Breakers except the two Disney girls were in it, but decided to watch it due to the Bling Ring Comparisons. Hard to compare them as films, because the styles and content are so vastly different, but you’re right to link these three with the bad girl gang theme.

    Courtney

    July 26, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    • Thank you! I think there is a connection between those, even if their takes are vastly different as you say. I think Foxfire is well worth watching as well.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

  8. Great post. As for me, I detect very strong ‘Pussy Riot’ influence, the documentary is nearly out, btw.

    dbmoviesblog

    August 1, 2013 at 1:05 am

    • Thank you! Pussy Riot, you said something there. I’m not all that updated on it tbh. I probably should watch that doc.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

  9. Hi Jessica…As opposed to your friend, I’m really happy you lumped these films together in a single post. Not necessarily because they belong together or that they signal a trend, but simply because I like reading articles and posts that play one film off another and tease out comparisons. Like you said, if your brain works that way, I kinda want to see you write that way too. I try to do this with my Blind Spot posts (where I pair up 2 films each time and usually find comparison points I hadn’t even expected).

    I so wanted to like “Foxfire” (a girl gang in the 50s directed by Cantet? Woo!), but sadly I thought it failed. Certainly the acting was an issue – I know most were inexperienced, but there was something off with the rhythm of the speech of the girls (not sure if that was Cantet’s ear or their abilities) – but the whole film just didn’t gel. In fact there felt to be an issue with the rhythm of the whole story. Too bad, because many of the elements you mention had potential…

    I loved “Spring Breakers”…I wouldn’t buy into the dream idea either, but I think it’s fair to state that perhaps the story is slanted to a particular view the girls may have. Disconnected, they find excitement in drugs and violence and that skews their perceptions. Just as an exercise in style this movie was great – gorgeous (all those sunsets!) and edited with an odd abandon that kinda reflected the music (and their mindsets).

    I haven’t seen “The Bling Ring” yet, but certainly hope to as I always find something interesting in Coppola’s films.

    Bob Turnbull

    August 3, 2013 at 1:56 am

    • Thank you for your kind words! Yes, I think it’s nice to have posts that cover several movies, I should really do that more often. In this case it didn’t feel all that contrived.

      I can see what you mean about the storytelling of Foxfire. I felt strongly that it originated from a novel. Without having read it, I couldn’t help thinking that they’d made some kind of Reader’s Digest version, trying to cram in as much as possible of the major plot parts, rather than choosing one aspect or part of it and develop it for a film. Perhaps you can sometimes be too faithful in an adaptation, with a negative impact on the rythm?

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  10. I have to say that I don’t see any connection at all between your texts about the films and the grades you give them. But with that said, I like the fact that you liked The Bling Ring. Most others seem to not like it. I gave it a 4-/5 grade.

    Jojjenito

    August 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    • It’s often like that. My ratings sometimes include things that I don’t talk about in the text. Basically it’s based on gut feeling.

      Jessica

      August 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

  11. […] Criminal girls x 3: my take on a running theme of 2013 […]

  12. […] The Bling Ring I felt emotionally disconnected from Sofia Coppola’s movie, but it worked for me at an intellectual level. […]

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