The second adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ cult 1993 novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (the first starred a young Angelina Jolie), this time from Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet (The Class), returns the tale of a proto-feminist girl’s club which goes horribly awry, back to its original fifties setting. It’s convincingly-acted and admirably restrained, yet suffers from a hurried first act, before giving way to a long-winded, dramatically-sluggish remainder. A group of working-class teenagers in upstate New York come together in an attempt to wreak havoc upon the various males in their lives who have wronged them.
Naming themselves “Foxfire”, the teen posse take aim at their numerous male targets (a lecherous predatory uncle, a widowed absentee father and a discriminating teacher) before resorting to vandalism and violence to further push their manifesto. Unsurprisingly, things soon spiral out of control and ringleader Margret “Legs” Sadovsky (Raven Adamson) lands herself a healthy stretch in the local women’s correctional facility. Upon release, she reconnects with her old gang,and almost immediately finds them a commune, where they can continue on their misdirected quest. Struggling to stay afloat financially, the girls begin to formulate a desperate and ill-advised plan which results in serious consequences for them.
You only need to look at the incarceration of Russian punk rock protest group Pussy Riot and the media storm it has provoked to see that Foxfire’s premise resonates within a contemporary, real-world context. Cantet’s economic and grounded direction ensues that the material is imbued with the requisite seriousness and weight, and that strive for authenticity and truthfulness is reinforced in the casting of the girls, who all give superb, unaffected performances. Unfortunately, the incidents which shape the characters’ increasingly radicalised views are given short thrift, and the film seems far too much in a hurry to satisfyingly establish the group and chain of events which leads to the arrest and imprisonment of its spokesperson.
This is all packed into a brisk fifty minutes, leaving a hefty remaining second and third act to deal with the aftermath of Leg’s release and return to the collective. That following ninety minutes wheezes along at a sometimes maddeningly slow pace, despite the best efforts of the actresses involved, particularly from leads Adamson and Katie Coseni (who plays the conscience of the group). While Cantet’s own interpretation of Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang has been roundly praised for attempting a more faithful adaptation of the book, it just isn’t compelling enough the warrant its bloated runtime.
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