A few weeks back, I watched Jonathan Khan’s 1998 feature Girl for the first time with my friend Erik, who loved Blake Nelson’s young adult novel of same name as a teenager. He had the great idea of doing a grunge movie night, screening this one with Singles and Bodies, Rest & Motion, though I’d also like to through in Gas Food Lodging, as I haven’t yet seen it. Apparently, Girl suffered considerably as it transitioned into another medium.
For one, it was released about four years too late, not accounting for a fickle market that, by 1998, tired of grunge and was starting to cultivate a backlash against The Spice Girls. It also drew obvious narrative parallels and stylistic similarities with ABC’s My So-Called Life, which made it feel all the more dated. For another, David E. Tolchinsky’s screenplay appoarently lost much of the novel’s singular tone that rallied many fans around the book. I worry that this may happen with Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation of his 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, though my concerns also stem from finding the source material derivative and unworthy of much of the praise it recieved.
Finally, the end product itself was terrible, lacking especially in terms of writing, directing, and acting. Starring many B- and C-level actors like Portia de Rossi, Selma Blair, Tara Reid, Sean Patrick Flannery, Channon Roe, and Christopher Masterson, the film rests on Dominique Swain’s incapable shoulders. Remember when Swain beat out thousands of young actors for the title role in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita? How did that happen, exactly?
I almost thought about not writing an entry on Girl, as there was hardly anything positive to write about it. Privileged white girl Andrea Marr (Swain) inexplicably has everyone fall in love with her, including Brown University, square frenemy Darcy (Blair), rebel girl bassist Cybil (Reed), music journalist (Roe), and rock god Todd Sparrow (Flannery), even though she’s shallow, narcissistic, and not especially bright. The movie follows her last semester of high school, as she plants her freak flag to follow Sparrow and his band, The Color Green. She becomes his groupie for a while, but ultimately decides she’s putting his needs before her own and breaks up with him before starting college. Since I just read Pamela Des Barres’s I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie for a Bitch entry on Zooey Deschanel’s efforts to adapt the memoir for an HBO series, groupies are on my mind.
Also, I’ve decided to write a post on the movie because Kristen at Act Your Age and I were recently asked to give a guest lecture for an undergraduate class at UT Austin this summer. Since the course is on race representations in media culture, we’ll be focusing on whiteness and girlhood and movies and television shows that feature young cisgender female characters who are interested in music. Thus, Girl needs to be considered, if not for its individual merits, but to provide further context for the evolution of hipster girls and manic pixies dream girls during a period where post-riot grrrl was becoming post-feminist in teen movies.
An interesting contribution the movie provides is sidekick character Rebecca Fernhurst, played by Summer Phoenix. Intellectual, deadpan, more obsessed with records than boys or fashion, and already over the next big thing, Fernhurst in some ways recalls Daria Morgendorffer and anticipates Juno McGuff and Norah Silverberg. A running joke in the movie is that Fernhurst is the girl always out of frame in a picture while Marr is in the center. For this music geek, she’s the only character in focus.