Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Girls (the real deal) in the Jenny Gage/Tom Betterton coming-of-age doc, ALL THIS PANIC

There were times during TrustMovies' viewing of ALL THIS PANIC -- a new film from Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton -- when he wondered if this movie about a group of young girls on the cusp of adulthood was actually a documentary. The girls' dialog, which sounds completely off-the-cuff, was presumably caught on the fly, while the cast list uses their real names, with the exception of the leading lady, who is referred to as Lena M. Yet at times the movies is so cinematic, engulfing and artfully done that one is tempted to wonder if it is not, after all, some kind of fictional fable about coming-of-age in our current, frightening, what-lies-ahead? decade. Late adolescence and the oncoming trip to adulthood have always been fraught and uneasy. These days they are simply more so.

Ms Gage and Mr. Betterton, shown at right, introduce us to these maybe half dozen young women in their last (or penultimate) year of high school and then follow them, so the press information tells us, for three years. It's all very scattershot and all over the place, but as the short (just 79 minutes) film progresses, we come to understand these girls surprisingly well and care about them, too. My spouse, busy in the kitchen but able to hear the soundtrack, called out to me at one point, "These sound like pretty nice girls!" They do, and they are. 

Sure, they argue and get angry and all the rest, but basically they're rather normal examples of what we used to refer to as raw youth. They're certainly not "mean girls," and we wish them well. What they're dealing with, however, runs the gamut from parents who have their own problems (unemployment, mental health) to life after high school (and college, which proves a tough, do-I-go-or-don't-I choice in itself) to the usual what-to-do-about-sex quandary.

At first we see only the girls -- all varieties: straight, gay, black, white -- and then slowly, some of the parents enter the picture (they prove just as real, believable and problemed as their offspring), and finally we get a boy or two, as relationships form and evolve.

And that's it. Yet, by the end of this little film, it seems as though we've been made privy to girls' lives in a manner we've not seen previously: genuine, specific and on the mark -- if scattered and fragmented all to hell. The result is a documentary that has us hanging on every word, with visuals that are immediate, pointed and often quite beautiful, as we (and the girls) try to piece it all together. In its way, this is as good a picture of late adolescence as we've so far experienced.

At the end, which is, by the film's very nature, anything but an end, we simply leave the girls in the middle of it all. This is one documentary to which, a few years down the road, I would love see a sequel.

From Factory 25, All This Panic (a smart, ironic-but-not title, which one of the girl expresses early on) opens this Friday, March 31, in New York City at the IFC Center and in Chicago at Facets Multimedia.  On April 7 it hits the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, and on April 14, the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles. Click here then scroll down to view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

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