French director Laurent Cantet follows his 2008 Palme d’Or winner ‘The Class’ with this English-language adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s early 1990s novel ‘Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang’. Set in the 1950s, it’s the story of a bunch of alienated teenage girls in smalltown upstate New York who react to misogyny (and, in some cases, abuse) by ganging together and committing random acts of vandalism and violence.
The beauty of ‘The Class’ was the electric sense of a tight ensemble that Cantet achieved with a group of real-life Parisian schoolkids. He aims for the same here by casting a group of non-professionals to play the gang members, but the effect is less successful. Some of the performances are awkward – even if Raven Adamson has real charisma as leader Legs – and, compared to ‘The Class’, the storytelling doesn’t feel as taut and purposeful. Where Cantet does succeed is in offering a sense of time and place, and persuading us that these girls’ actions and attitudes are understandable, even justified, in a world where men treat them as stupid or sex toys. In lesser hands, the same story could feel like a misguided, girl-power exploitation flick.