REVIEW: Girlhood

24 02 2015

GirlhoodWriter/director Céline Sciamma’s third feature bears the title “Bande de Filles” in its native French tongue, which translates roughly to band (or group) of girls.  Yet the English release of the film gives it this name: “Girlhood.”  The title seems not only ill-fitting but also begging for immediate foiling against Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

Such a comparison is facile and does a disservice to Sciamma’s wonderfully observed film.  She does not aim to provide a wide-ranging snapshot of female youth.  “Girlhood” is less about one girl, be she specific or a stand-in for all women, and more about gendered group dynamics filtered through the experience of the protagonist, Marieme (Karidja Touré).  Sciamma’s work does resemble many other great films, however.

“Girlhood” recalls Tina Fey’s insightful script for “Mean Girls,” which also focuses on a troublemaking quartet of girls.  Both depict the ways in which either one person can set the tone for an entire group – or a paralysis of groupthink can conduct the unit.  Perhaps the most memorable scene in “Girlhood,” save a lip-sync rendition of “Diamonds” by Rhianna, occurs when the clique encounters a former member who was exiled when she became pregnant.  Group identity is everything for these adolescent girls, until it is nothing.

“Girlhood” recalls Catherine Hardwicke’s hard-hitting “Thirteen,” an intense drama that follows two taboo-shattering teen girls down a rabbit hole of drug abuse and promiscuity.  Admittedly, this connection is more superficial.  Sciamma shows her main characters committing some questionable acts, but they do not necessarily define them as people.


“Girlhood” recalls Andrea Arnold’s underseen masterpiece “Fish Tank,” a portrait of frustrated working-class adolescence scarcely documented on screen.  Sciamma’s subjects clearly dream of an opulent lifestyle, yet such conditions feel like an unattainable fantasy.  As an added bonus, both films feature girls using dance as a means for expressing and then dealing with their internal torments.

“Girlhood” recalls Emma Roberts’ April from Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto.”  Both April and Marieme have a tendency to gaze, longingly and wistfully, into space.  Without the benefits of ensconced socioeconomic privilege, though, Marieme’s pining looks feel more devastating and less angsty.

“Girlhood” recalls Dee Rees’ “Pariah,” just without the main plot of lesbianism.  Sciamma looks at the cumulative societal disadvantages earned from being not only a female but also a person of color.  Strikingly, she includes an episode all too familiar to many in America: an unwelcome tail from a retail employee assuming that Marieme is attempting to steal some of their merchandise.

“Girlhood” recalls Lee Daniels’ “Precious,” another film that does not shy away from, nor sugarcoat, the real issues facing young women in society.  From teen pregnancy to rape culture, no holds are barred.  Pain becomes a requisite component for the audience to experience the true scope of their existence.

But above all, and in spite of its title, “Girlhood” is about the means of surviving and getting by in a man’s world.  Seeing how much males, both well-meaning and predatory, define their life experiences proves rather disheartening.  The message comes across quickly and clearly, which does lead to the last 30 minutes of the film feeling a tad bit superfluous.  Still, Céline Sciamma has crafted a film that is worth both seeing and discussing.  B / 2halfstars



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