Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Coming of Age -- in the Water & on the Job: Water Lilies & Itty Bitty Titty Committee

Two movies about young girls coming of age appeared on DVD last week and, despite their similar subject, they could hardly be more different in tone, style or success. Itty Bitty Titty Committee has a cute title (That's not a put-down: Say it out loud and you'll have to chuckle), an attractive and energetic cast led by Melonie Diaz and Nicole Vicius, and a worthwhile message about

women honoring their bodies in ways other than silicone implants and facial recon-struction. Unfortunately, the delivery of the message is somewhat botched.

The film's director is Jamie Babbit (above), who's been around for a dozen years now, making shorts, doing a lot of television, and three feature-length films. Her first But I'm a Cheerleader, is still in some ways her most consistent. She acted as writer and director on that one, but not on her subsequent films: the disastrous-unto-camp The Quiet (though my compatriot at GreenCine Guru Reviews, Erin Donovan, was a fan) and the movie under consideration here. With Itty Bitty, Babbit lands midway between her other two in terms of a successful foray into the land of girls, women, lesbian love, and messages. She includes way too much frolicking, and I admit that I have a low tolerance for frolic (running, jumping, dancing, giggling and other dialog-free activities that make it look like the actors enjoyed the experience far more than us poor viewers). And literally every plot point in the movie (well, it is a rom-com: spoiler ahead) plays out to its happy conclusion, which simply makes it appear that nothing was ever truly at stake. Add to the mix dialog and plot contrivances that are too generic, and you come up with an off-and-on enjoyable time-waster.

Céline Sciamma's Water Lilies, on the other hand, does much more with less: less plot, characters, and a much less obvious message. A message is there, all right, but you must ferret it out. Synchronized swimming is the activity that starts the ball rolling, one that makes for an exotic and graceful backdrop to the story of a young girl in the process of finding out who she is and what she wants. Two other girls are involved, as well as a boy in whom two of the three girls have a strong interest. Adults are all but missing from the entire movie, and they are conspicuous in their absence -- raising yet another red flag about middle-class child-rearing in France.

While Sciamma's film touches on death (I'll certainly remember the line "Ceilings will never be the same"), its main topic of interest is the uses of friendship and sex, and the writer/director adds her own distinctive stamp to both the content and the style of films in the coming-of-age genre. The cinematography is sharp, the colors bright and the compositions smart and often striking. The music, too, is memorable, particularly at film's end, as one theme melds into another, much as the relationships and feelings on display do the same. Sciamma has brought together a wonderful cast of pivotal players. Her three girls and one boy (played by Pauline Acquart, Louise Blachère, Adele Haenel and Warren Jacquin) don't have a false moment among them. (You can view some of their auditions in the "extras" on this very well-transferred Koch-Lorber disc.)

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