17 GIRLS (17 FILLES)
Written and Directed by: Delphine Coulin & Muriel Coulin
Starring: Louise Grinberg, Juliette Darche, Roxane Duran, Esther Garrel, Yara Pilartz, Solène Rigot, and Noémie Lvovsky
Oh to be young, French, beautiful, and live by the picturesque seaside. Would my thoughts have been filled with as much introspection and staggering naïveté as the teenage girls in 17 GIRLS? The elegant, sparkling way real life sister writing and directing team Delphine and Muriel Coulin set the stage, perhaps I’d too have entertained the notion of joining a pact with my friends. Based on 2008’s hot topic news story of the Glouchester, Massachussettes group of teens who formed a pregnancy pact, it’s much like the Lifetime Movie version, only with way more French ennui.
The film starts and ends on a narrated short story filled with symbolism. One summer in Lorient, France an unexplained phenominon took place – a ladybug infestation took over the town. No one knows how or why they arrived, or even the reasons why they left. You see, while the ladybug is one of the prettier bugs in the insect family, its both a welcome (some cultures consider them a sign of luck) and harmful pest. The filmmakers draw this clever comparison between this pest and the town’s petulant and model pretty teen girls. Much like what will transpire over the course of the next 90 minutes, it’s like a beautiful plague of sorts on this small fishing village.
Near the beginning of the school year, Camille (Louise Grinberg) discovers she is pregnant. Not exactly sure what to do, she bands together with her chums who offer their support. Alienated from her working mom and with her soldier brother not being around much either, she decides to keep the baby. It will give her the unconditional love she so desperately craves. She spins this to her clique who in turn all think this is the best idea ever. With Camille’s inspiration as their guide, the group enters into some careless and reckless behavior in order to join her in female solidarity.
It’s interesting to note that none of these girls fights over any of the boys. They are out to form their own version of a perfect utopian society where apparently a retro throwback mindset of free love will be welcomed. They’ll pool their money and get a house where when one of them works, others will watch their kid. Sounds like this girls have it all figured out, eh? Not so much. A crushing dose of reality is about to befall our motley crew of heroines. Clementine (Yara Pilartz) was told she’ll have trouble delivering and carry due to her diminuitive size, and another girl gets a scare when she has to have her amniotic fluid tested. Once more and more girls start getting knocked up, the school board tries to diswade these teens by scaring them, or rather making them giggle and groan watching a birthing video. Nothing will convince these girls otherwise.
These are little girls clearly not yet ready for womanhood. Hell, they don’t even understand how a pregnancy test works. “Can I reuse this,” they ask their pharmacist. During one bittersweet scene the girls draw on each other’s bulging bellies with markers – something a little girl would do with her mom. Oh these desperate teens have no idea of the tough road ahead of them.
While I love how the film oscillates between art house teen drama and a semi-comedic cautionary tale, there are a few small maladies. The film assumes that all of these girls get pregnant the first time they have sex. Basically, if there’s a shot of a teen girl in her room sitting motionless retreating into melancholy, this means she’s preggo. The topic of medical complications come around early on, but STD’s are touched on all too briefly.
17 GIRLS says a lot about friendship, love, and motherhood. It never veers into being a judgmental piece but does walk a fine line of almost glamorizing the poor decisions of the title characters. While the hot topic has simmered down by now, this film may stir things back up. Also the film’s pop-rock soundtrack needs to be in my life immediately.
17 GIRLS opens on September 21.