Directed by: Laurent Cantet.
Written by: Laurent Cantet based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates.
Starring: Katie Coseni (Maddy), Raven Adamson (Legs), Madeleine Bisson (Rita O'Hagan), Claire Mazerolle (Goldie), Paige Moyles (Lana), Rachel Nyhuus (Violet), Tamara Hope (Marianne), Rick Roberts (Mr. Kellogg), Briony Glassco (Mrs. Kellogg).
Most movies about female adolescence ring false. There are many reasons for that – starting with the fact that they are usually written and directed by older men who try to put themselves in the shoes of young women, and fail, and also because most movies insists in casting women in their 20s – who are impossibly hot – as teenagers who feel out of place and are picked on. While Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang certainly has its problems – the biggest being it’s long running time – it at least feels real and authentic. Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates and starring a group of non-professional mainly Canadian teenagers who look like teenagers (even the girl the rest describe as the hot one is believably hot, not supermodel hot). It is a film that above all, gets the feeling of awkwardness and confusion of what it must be like to be a teenage girl – especially one in the pre-feminist era of 1950s suburban America.
The movie is about a group of awkward, but seemingly normal young teenage girls in 1950s America. Maddie (Katie Coseni) narrates the movie, that starts out innocently enough, as she and her friends try to navigate a world where the boys and men in their live rule – be it their fathers (most of whom are absent and/or uncaring), teachers, who love to belittle them, or teenage boys who take advantage of them, and pretty much every other man they meet. This is a world ruled by men – the girls know it, there mothers (who are many weak willed and beaten down by life) know it, and perhaps most importantly, the men know it. They can do what they want, because who is going to stop them?
Buts Legs (Raven Adamson) is different. There is an anger in Legs that grows throughout the course of the movie. Her mother is long gone, her father doesn’t care, and Legs is tired of being a victim – tired of being pushed around by men. She forms a “gang” that she calls Foxfire – and everything starts out innocently enough – graffiti, revenge on a nasty teacher, and then she takes things too far, steals a car, and ends up in juvie for months. When she gets out, she is even more determined than ever to be free – to live just as she chooses – and she needs her girls around her. Renting a larger, dilapidated house, the gang sets up shop. But money is tight, so the girls need to do something to make ends meet.
Like Cantet’s last film, the Palme D’Or winning The Class, he makes good use of non-professional actors in Foxfire. No, the performances in Foxfire do not have the same polish as pros would have – the actors sometimes sound awkward or unsure of themselves, but it works in the context of the movie, where the girls are often awkward and unsure of themselves. The one exception is Raven Adamson, who rips into her role as Legs and never hits a false note. She is most beaten down of any of the girls – the one most looking for a surrogate family and support system, and she’s willing to do almost anything to get what she wants. As the film moves along, she puts on more and more bravado – and what started out as a group of friends who call themselves a gang, becomes something more than that – almost cult like. I have heard people compare the film to Lord of the Flies, and that’s a good comparison, but while watching the film, I found myself thinking about Fight Club. As more and more members join, and start taking their belief in the gang to fanatical extremes, the original group starts to drift apart. For some of them, it’s just because they grow up – start to see that life isn’t quite as black and white as Legs makes it seem – plus Legs is going to further extremes, taking more risks, and what was once fun, no longer is.
Foxfire is not a great film – but it is a very good one. Cantet’s film clocks in at 143 minutes, and that’s at least half hour too long, and as the movie progresses, it starts to get repetitive. I also wish he had found a better way to end the movie – the strange kidnapping and hostage drama that ends the film – involving an Ayn Rand spouting corporate fat cat – feels strange, and plays like the filmmakers did not know how to end the movie, so they add in a false drama to give the film a better climax. It wasn’t necessary. At its best, Foxfire is a necessary corrective to all the movies that pretend to be about “girl power”, but are really just about a bunch of hot girls in skimpy clothing acting like assholes, just like men. At its best, Foxfire is more than that, so while it doesn’t reach the heights of The Class, it is still another very good film by Cantet.
Note: I saw this film way back in 2012 at TIFF – and I was starting to think it would never be released, until yesterday when I saw it was available in Canada on iTunes. I definitely think it’s worth checking out – and I’m sorry it never got a proper release in North America.