A group of teenage girls in upstate New York start a gang to avenge the sexual violence and patriarchal oppression they're no longer willing to put up with. Calling themselves Foxfire, they fight, kick and bust up the boys before starting their own proto-feminist commune. How this group of young women maintain their community and exert their power over those who have oppressed them is the story at the heart of Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Laurent Cantet's faithful and engaging adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' 1994 novel.
The story is told retrogressively by one of the gang members, the shy and literate Maddy (Katie Coseni). At times, the narration feels a little heavy-handed, with flights of whimsy murmured in a rather dull monotone. The cast – a group of young women, mostly amateur actors – are nonetheless impressive and have a dynamic connection. The star of the film is Foxfire's anarchist leader and waif, named Legs (Raven Adamson). Legs’ mysterious home life and gamine, angry and organised demeanour inspire the group to be active. Hers is a much more clearly political cause than the other members of the group, who may well be kicking up dust to while away the boredom of a '50s adolescence of blue-collar boredom.
Played in Annette Haywood-Carter’s 1996 grungy Americana adaptation of the book by Angelina Jolie, it is Adamson’s Legs that is the dramatic centre of Canet’s film; at times, Adamson struggles under the weight of the film’s script, but she is by far its strongest character. The other girls in the group, such as the butch and brutal Goldie (Claire Mazerolle), and the girly girl Rita (Madeleine Bisson) often fall into feminist cliche.
Girl gang 'Foxfire'.
Cantet's regular cinematographer Pierre Milon (who worked with him on the 2008 Palme d'Or winner The Class) has a brilliant eye for detail, and brings the small town world to life. Evocative period music and costume conjure up this alternate history of '50s juvenile delinquency, moving away from more standard fare of diners and proms and into the world of small run-down shops, and sexual violence in the schoolyard. The now iconic image of the '50s greaser, the violent male rebel of American teen movies, is inverted, and we see a group of young and angry tattooed girls fighting the system in much a similar way. Even within their utopian commune, however, their prejudices start to emerge, as one or two of the girls start to turn on an African American prison-mate of Legs. Even within such utopias, the film suggests, internal in-fighting and hypocritical oppression starts to break down the foundations of the movement.
In its focus on the radicalised female juvenile delinquent, Foxfire is refreshing, although it also neatly fits in to other popular films of this year. Girl gangs have always held a particularly cinematic quality (in much B-movie fare like John Waters’ films), and 2013 really seems to be their year, as high-profile films like Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring seem to suggest.
Running somewhat unnecessary at over two hours, the film's plot sometimes sags, struggling to maintain the tension particularly in its more verbose moments. Foxfire is still a captivating period drama about a group of female rebels with a helluva lot of causes.
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