Girls Town (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
It was supposed to be just another Friday, an exam during second period. But the teacher walks into her classroom with terrible news: one of the students, Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis), has killed herself. It is a surprise to everybody, including Nikki’s best friends, Angela (Bruklin Harris), Patti (Lili Taylor), and Emma (Anna Grace), because it seemed as though everything was going well for Nikki. She was even supposed to attend Princeton next year.
I suppose one can choose to digest Jim McKay’s “Girls Town” as a “feminist” film. After all, it involves three young women taking revenge on men who do or has done them wrong. But I choose not to view the picture through that lens. In fact, it was only after I had seen it that the pattern became clear: I was too involved in the lives of Nikki’s friends and how the death of someone they love has changed the way they choose to live their lives.
Though released in the mid-nineties, aside from the clothing, it has not aged a day. I have met and know people who talk and carry themselves exactly like Patti, Emma, and Angela. Listening to them talk about silly things and subjects of particular importance is like being inside their circle of friends. Yet at the same time we come to understand why some of their peers judge them for being losers or troublemakers. These girls are not exactly angels.
But each of them has a kindness that is endearing. They are present for one another when one needs a laugh or a shoulder to lean on when things get to be too much. The screenplay juggles the rough edges of the characters with enough surprising moments of vulnerability that we grow attached to them eventually. What is exciting and fresh, however, is despite the problems that arise in the girls’ lives, they are always going to school.
These are not dumb girls who bully people for the sake of nothing. These are smart girls just being themselves. These are young women who are aware that they have a future which means they have something to look forward to and maybe even fight for.
The dynamics of the friendship is captured beautifully. Though each of the girls has a distinct personality, the acting is so fluid that it does not feel as though the script is forcing performances out of the actors. It does not rely on quirks to make the subjects believable. Instead, the film concerns itself on allowing us to have a taste of how Emma, Angela, and Patti are like when together as well as when they are alone with only their thoughts.
“Girls Town” is about substance. Though set in an urban milieu, not once do we see a gun or someone being shot. There are no drug dealers here. No one is sent to jail. There is violence. There are fights—between friends, family, strangers—but they occur to make a point. But then there is also peace. Together, these women find away to move on—not completely but just enough so that we feel they are all going to be all right.