Girls Against Boys

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“Despite the director’s name, not really a chick flick. Thank you: I’ll be here all week.”

Shae (Panabaker) is not having the best luck with men. Her older boyfriend just dumped her, to try to get back with his wife, and a night where she drinks to forget ends up with her being raped in the stairwell of her apartment building. Fortunately, there to lend a helping hand is Lu (LaLiberte), a barmaid who turns out to have a dark side. A really dark side. As in, when Shae is reporting her rape. Lu takes the desk sergeant to a motel, handcuffs to the bed, sticks a gun into his crotch and pulls the trigger. When the authorities prove about as useful as they usually are in this situation, Lu helps Shae take revenge on the bastard who raped her. Then his friends. Then the ex-boyfriend. But when Shae finds a guy who might actually not be a total douche-bag, Lu is still thoroughly unimpressed.

Almost from the start, the film is playing, more or less openly, with the question of Lu. Is she real? A projection of Shae’s violent revenge fantasties? Or, in the end, does it matter all that much? This has been compared to Baise-Moi, which I haven’t seen, but the vibe I got from it was more Ms. 45. That’s true in several ways: the New York setting, the way the violence escalates from “legitimate” targets to the innocent, and even a key scene near the end, taking place at a Halloween party. Here’s it’s as if Lu exists to give voice to the situation, in a way Zoe Tamerlis’s character couldn’t voice. However, Panabaker isn’t generally as good in her role, and we really don’t sympathize with her as much, perhaps because her problems are, to a degree, of her own making.

Several things here do fall into the “very good to excellent” category. The throbbing electronic soundtrack, with added Joy Division and Donovan, is highly effective. LaLiberte is excellent in her role as the unfettered voice of violent rage, perhaps no better, than when she’s telling Shae the story of how her father started selling her for sex to his friends when she was five. And the cinematography is occasionally awesome: there’s one shot involving a mirror, near th end, which is simply breathtaking – to the point that I rewound it, purely so I could enjoy it once more. The story has been criticized for being thin, and that’s fair comment, since there is rather too much footage of the heroines going from place to place. However, if you can ignore the lurid advertising and largely misleading trailer, going in with few preconceptions of what to expect, it’s a decent, chewy piece of thought-provoking grindhouse.

Dir: Austin Chick
Star: Danielle Panabaker, Nicole LaLiberte, Michael Stahl-David