Monday, 6 June 2016

Mini-ish Monday: A Girl Like Her

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king poster

You know, the good thing about a mockumentary is that you can have all of the hard hitting emotion and exploitative trickery of a normal documentary without any of the actual real life nonsense getting in your way. Amy S. Weber's A Girl Like Her really ramps up the real factor and, by the end, completely alienates you with the absolutely fantastical, pie-in-the-sky butt-fuckery that is it's concluding moments. It sounds like I hate this film at the moment but really I'm so in two minds about this movie, because it is pretty great. It's well made and emotional and really nails the peaks and troughs of high school life; but at the same time it's fucking dumb, nauseatingly idealistic and inadvertently satirical to great unintentional comedic effect. OK, this is going to be hard to do in three paragraphs, so we'll go good then bad. Ahem.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king jimmy bennett camera
"This tiny my opinion. And I'm going to shove it down your throat."
One sentence blurb: A Girl Like Her is a mockumentary charting a top-ranking American high school as it deals with the attempted suicide of one of it's students (Jessica, played by Lexi Ainsworth), exploring the very real US bullying epidemic and such like. We start the film with Jessica popping hella pills and going into a coma, as you do with all that hydrocodone you just so happen to have lying around your house. It very quickly transpires that she has been suffering some pretty intense bullying from the popular girl, Avery (Hunter King) and has been encouraged to start recording the abuse by her friend, Brian (Jimmy Bennett). The acting from King and Bennett, as well as the majority of the supporting cast, is spot on and hard hitting; King is a suitably vile beast from the stygian abyss, revelling in the torture of Jessica, who sadly doesn't get a great deal of screen time due to the aforementioned coma. The documentarian style of candid cameras and talking heads works very well in the context of the narrative and keeps things grounded nicely as events unfold and we dip into the beating heart of the school. Plot itself very quickly takes a back seat in favour of developing our antagonist and pushing the very forward, but very necessary, anti-bullying message of the film, which on a whole is well intentioned and correct. OK, um, here's the bad bits.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king coma
The person we're meant to give a shit about, doing what she does for the entire run time of the film.
I have the weirdest feeling that Amy S. Weber is trying to make up for something with this movie. Very quickly do we curtail any pretence of this being about Jessica and focus solely on her harasser, Avery; an act which worryingly parallels the way in which modern media obsesses over the accused in cases of sexual assault and the like, leaving the survivor as a footnote. I know this breaks my three paragraph rule but I think it's important that you see who we're dealing with here. I apologise in advance to anyone whom this might awaken awful high school memories for; King is too perfect as the archetypal evil popular girl.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king locker

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king smirk
That is a face only an icepick could love.
I don't care if this is a movie about redemption and accepting that "hurt people hurt people" and all that lovey dovey nonsense. It works in theory, yes, but in theory alone; and that's exactly where this movie resides, in that magical fantasy world where the school bully would eventually see the error of their ways and apologise rather than dig their heels in like a cantankerous mare and double down on the bitch-factor. I've witnessed events very similar to these myself and in my experience no-one ever admits to being the one to blame, usually the exact opposite to tell the truth; everyone else in the school will feel guilt before the actual perpetrator will. No, it shouldn't be like that, and yes, it should be more like what happens in this film, but it feels unfair to those who suffer to assume that an apology and some tears is ever going to be enough to make up for what the victim has been put through. It is a noble message, but a heavily misguided one. Misguided would be a way to describe some of the choices of filming at a few points in the story as well; documentaries are voyeuristic and exploitative in their very nature at the best of times, but when you're secretly filming crying students and shoving a lens in the face of a grieving father you might be taking the biscuit a little.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king mother father grief
Crew needed for new documentary. Stone heart absolutely necessary.
You don't line up a shot like that without thinking about a little thing called subtext, so this is what I think this movie is really about, and one more little aspect of A Girl Like Her lends it some credibility: the maker of the film's fake documentary and the woman who conducts the interviews throughout is actually Amy S. Weber herself. I think this film might be Weber acknowledging her past as either a bully or an accessory to someone who did these kinds of things when she was at high school. I think she understands and accepts the shallowness of these kinds of documentaries and, in likeness, of trying to apologise to a person whose life you have so thoroughly ruined. I think she never did apologise and this is her way of saying that, in a better world, this is what should have happened, but even then how much weight does that even carry? In the end, whatever you do is forced and manipulated either out of self preservation or guilt, and attempting to humanise and justify the actions of the person who did these things merely serves to trivialise the suffering of those she has affected. How do you come to terms with the fact that you did something that is irredeemably bad? I don't know, and neither does this film; but I think it sincerely wishes it did.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king coma awake
Either way, the sequel is gonna make for one hell of a revenge slasher.