Tales from the Girlhood: 5 Under the Radar Films About Female Adolescence

The genial rhetoric of every girl’s favorite girly films or movies starring women tend to go like: Clueless, Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, and maybe if they’ve watched films prior to 1991, a title starring Marilyn Monroe or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. On the mainstream front, critics react with surprise and color me impressed when films like the aforementioned and even Bridesmaids (a kind of Cher, Elle, and Cady Get Married) are written with such deliciously snarky roles for its female characters because such clear yet nuanced elements are seemingly reserved for their male counterparts. Yet whether comedic or dramatic, for independent films, the expectations are more level-headed as often this sector of cinema showcases what happens once a Norman Rockwell life gets shattered or never had a chance to even begin as so. This much is very true when it comes to the legacy of the teenage girl or young woman captured on film as an honest unraveling of protagonists and company go (to us as viewers) from their current point A to a sudden non-stop ride to point E.

A young girl’s tears, what excites them, what thrills them, what irrationally upsets them, and what reminds them of that silent beauty called starting over, is the kind of torpedo of living in the moment affairs and afterthoughts that storytellers long to re-create as societal commentary. This age bracket or second phase of the the growing pains era (the quarter-life crisis/almost reaching 30 are the third) are a favorite topic of soul searching filmmakers.

Films like This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, KIDS, Boyz N the Hood, and Donnie Darko are adolescent recollections from the male perspective, and the female equivalent to those would be Blue Car, Girlfight, Ghost World, Thirteen, Girls Town and Welcome to the Dollhouse, and there are even more really greats films of the girl world experience. The ones who may have heard of and probably seen like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Now and Then are good, but definitely much more wistful. While we usually don’t need a reminder of how exhausting it is adapting to the highs and lows of being wiser and braver than you were the last time you were called to step up and act accordingly, there are another set of films, in this case five, that further exemplify the extremely memorable female adolescence, from East L.A. to Brooklyn.

1. GIRL (1998), directed by Jonathan Kahn, written by Blake Nelson and David E. Tolchinsky

Still adoring this film sixteen years later, GIRL starring one of the ’90s indie It Girls Dominique Swain was a dewy-eyed take on a teenager girl curiosity of experiencing life beyond her straight-laced upbringing for the first time during her senior year of high school. The film uses the backdrop of a Seattle-esque suburb, and Swain’s Andrea is the kind of girl everybody knows, but she begins to carve a spot for herself among her core group of friends. Andrea, even when nervously, responds to her developing pangs of sexual feelings, disappoint, and confusion, and despite her occasional naiveté ways, all leads towards a path of growing independence. The fluidity of one scene to the another feels as natural as Andrea’s realization that while under the guise of a groupie label (she falls in love with the local rock star, Todd Sparrow), she’s more of an original and influence on her peers than she could’ve ever imagined a year ago.




2.MI VIDA LOCA (MY CRAZY LIFE) (1994), written and directed by Allison Anders

I’ll forever thank my freshmen Spanish teacher for having my class watch Mi Vida Loca. I never forgot it, and with its unfiltered, insiders guide at the lives of girl gangs from East L.A.’s Echo Park. Anders, with personal research done into the culture of the West Coast Chicano gangs, had a personal interest of this lifestyle from the viewpoint of the young girls she witnessed. The crew of Mi Vida Loca even cast real locals and gang affiliates of Echo Park, and with this backdrop, envisioned was a story of sisterhood and womanhood within the vortex of violence, living for today, and tradition. Anders’ homework was organically interjected into the script and her goal of paying homage to the young women, many of them mothers before the age of 21 and feeling predisposed to the gang culture, was respectfully real.




3. JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. (1992) written and directed by Leslie Harris

An almost forgotten mark of the early ’90s wave of black filmmakers, Harris’ Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. took a familiar tale of a good girl gone bad and gave it a in the hood twist. Chantel is not a typical good girl in that she’s often more than happy to expose the fact she’s too smart for her own good, she’s quick and witty, presumptuous and entitled, lots of fun and ambitious. All in all, a total Brooklyn girl. Filmed on location by the Flatbush Avenue 2 line, Chantel is in high school and though she likes boys and can be a total flirt, when she meets Tyrone, who woos her with his access to money and live pillow talk, she throws all former rules out the window…and finds herself pregnant. The film was shot in a kind of documentary-style and when watching it 22 years later, it was true to the habitude of Brooklyn, long before Bedford Avenue of Williamsburg’s clout on the gentrification New York’s most in your face borough. The film gets very real when Chantel is in labor and brings forth the reality of young motherhood to its intended audience. This was an after school special nary of sugar-coating.




4. YELLING TO THE SKY (2011), written and directed by Victoria Mahoney

Yelling to the Sky may not literally feature just that, but through Sweetness O’Hara’s actions, played quite well by music offspring Zoe Kravitz, she is pleading for guidance and sometimes just an easier way out of her broken home with her detached mother, abusive father, and woebegone older sister. Sweetness is also treated as a rag doll by some of her high school classmates, once she decides to challenge the fate of her currently doleful adolescence, she resorts to selling drugs with her neighborhood friend (played by The Roots’ Black Thought), discovers eye shadow and lipstick, wears bamboo earrings as armor, and elects herself the new queen bee when her former bully’s followers become her enablers. It’s a film that starts off roughly in trying to understand the point or purpose of such downtrodden times just as much as O’Hara, like its character, the answers aren’t necessarily fully exposed, but are a hell of a lot more clear in that the solution, and potential disaster, comes from within. It’s a somber film, but one that’s unexpectedly affective and you just want the characters to do know tomorrow will be better.



5. FOXES (1980), directed by Adrian Lyne, written by Gerald Avres

An underrated chapter of teenage adolescence, Foxes focuses on the latch key kids. A cast led by a young Jodie Foster and Cherie Currie (of the Runaways in her first acting role) the nubile ones here a close group of Californian friends that behave as each other’s family during the era of glam rock and disco in 1979. The film’s treatment is like some weeks in the life of how the girls are blessed with the option of doing as they please amongst aloof parents and hapless authority at school, but because of such free reign, some of the girls are more reckless than others, mainly Currie’s Annie. Annie is a perpetual nomad from her problems and Foster’s Jeanie is the den mother of her circle. On a script aspect, it’s a little scrambled, and at some points everything and everybody but Jeanie seem helpless. The film contains many classic elements of teenage anxiety and its quick fixes with flashes of partying and bad boys, but slowly the girls realize thay want more for themselves, but it’s a lesson learned through a sad turn of events.




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