Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire is a naturalistic and valiant adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, following a gang of teenage girls living in the 1950s brought together by the abuse they have suffered at the hands of men. As they fight back and rebel against ‘The Man’ (the system) that collectively oppresses them, the strains and internal politics begin to take their toll on the group, leading to a life-changing finale.
Adhering to the narrative style of the book, the events and developments of the story are revealed through the popular convention of flashback, as the character of Maddy, played admirably by Katie Coseni, narrates her old typewriter entries of Foxfire’s revolutionary exploits.
Although it’s historically engaging to see not only women but teenage girls rebelling so violently in an era as draconian to the female as the 1950s, then it does feel like something is missing from this one. The period detail, the costumes, cars etc, all provide a believable setting but despite this subtle and understated aesthetic of authenticity then the meat missing from this ‘50s US diner burger, is drama.
When the film jumps from flashback to present, believing that these girls are anything but teenagers proves difficult, not only because the actresses portraying them have no experience to draw on as adults but because of the very suspect wigs they are wearing! It’s a shame that this is noticeable but it is and it breaks the suspension of disbelief, required for any film, rather badly.
Raven Adamson, ‘Legs’ (the leader of the gang), puts in a brilliant and convincing performance as the empowered and determined young woman let down by her father and, ironically, inspired by an old religious ‘Father’ to live out her dreams and fight for the ideological success of Foxire. The relationship between her and Maddy serves as the centre and most involving of the group as the lines between platonic and sexual love become blurred in moments of adolescent exuberance.
Too long at almost two and a half hours, it plays out more as a two-part TV melodrama than an epic piece of compelling cinema. The big dramatic moments, when the violent and irreversible events occur, lack any real suspense and ultimately does not feel dramatic. How the girls never reap their ‘Foxfire Revenge’ on the boys who apparently raped Rita doesn’t seem to align with their core values and leaves a key horrific event unpunished, diminishing belief in their absolute resolve.
Credit to Cantet, this is an intelligent and stylistically different take on the teen movie, in no small part due to the period setting, but when the big dramatic moments seem to be one and the same as the not-so-big dramatic moments, you’re left with a drama sandwich that’s all bread, no thriller.