Review: 17 GIRLS Rises Above Its Tabloid Headline Premise

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
17 Girls, the debut feature of the Coulins (novelist Dephine and documentary filmmaker Muriel, hailing from Brittany), transcends its tabloid material and digs deeper into what it means to be young and female in the post-global recession era. Based on a real life story of the pregnancy pact in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where 17 girls became pregnant in the same school year, the film tells a story of a group of 16-year-old high school girls in Lorient, an economically depressed, grey seaside town in Brittany, who decide to get pregnant after one of their popular friends, Camille (Louise Grinberg) accidentally gets knocked up.

These girls, neglected at home by busy, working-class parents, living in the post-war-bright-future-never-delivered small town, decide to use their bodies the only way they know how, to express their somewhat distorted sense of rebellion and freedom. Dreaming of a utopian future where everyone takes care of each other and where the childhood friendship lasts forever, the girls decide to get pregnant together in one night at a beach party. Their idea should come across as childish and completely irresponsible, but it doesn't, thanks to the sensitive writing and direction of the Coulins and the portrayal of youth by many of its young actresses. The film achieves presenting something that is much more than a skin deep interpretation of the promiscuous girls gone wild scenario.

The film traipses a territory between Lynne Ramsay and Sophia Coppola sans their ethereal portrayal of youth. Sure, all the girls in the film are cellulite & blemish free and homogenous, looking like they just walked out of a Abercrombe & Fitch catalog, but their camaraderie seems genuine and their collective feelings of hope and despair ring true through their natural interactions. Shot on Canon 1D, 17 Girls almost feels like a documentary- intimate and immediate. More revealing are static shots of various girls in their rooms in their most private, contemplative moments- isolated, vulnerable and full of longing.

The one big difference of this film compared to other teen girl dramas is its lack of male characters. The boys are good for one thing and one thing only- an instrument for getting pregnant, but after that, they are almost non-existent. The girls' utopia has no room for them.

As the due dates approach, their resolve to stay together gets tested and their future seem more uncertain. But when it's all said and done, 17 Girls is a thoughtful memorialization of the fragile, fleeting beauty of youth.


[Premiered at last year's Critics Week in Cannes and featured in this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema, 17 Girls has a limited release on 9/21 in New York and will be available on VOD.]

Dustin Chang is a freelance Writer, his musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com

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