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Articles on FOXFIRE

FOXFIRE A film review by James Berardinelli Copyright 1996 James Berardinelli RATING (0 TO 10): 5.5 Alternative Scale: ** out of **** United States, 1996 U.S. Release Date: 8/23/96 (wide) Running Length: 1:40 MPAA Classification: R (Language, nudity, violence, mature themes) Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Cast: Hedy Burress, Angeline Jolie, Jenny Lewis, Sarah Rosenberg, Jenny Shimizu, John Diehl, Richard Beymer, Peter Facinelli, Cathy Moriarty Director: Annette Haywood-Carter Producers: Jeffrey Lurie, John Bard Manulis, and John P. Marsh Screenplay: Elizabeth White based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oats Cinematography: Tom Sigel Music: Michael Columbier U.S. Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

There have been so many male bonding films over the years that it seems only fair that we're finally being exposed to the female versions. Unfortunately, like their other-gender counterparts, these tend towards cliched melodrama rather than something more insightful and character- driven. FOXFIRE, which is about five teenage girls taking a walk on the wild side, has its share of incisive, intelligent moments, but the film as a whole is undermined by a silly plot and the bland characterization of secondary players. Therefore, what could have been a younger version of last year's little-seen LIVE NUDE GIRLS devolves into something just a little loftier than an exploitation flick.

In '80s and '90s male bonding movies (there are so many out there, you can take your pick), the guys usually get together, have a few beers, and talk about girls. If the director has been influenced by Quentin Tarantino, maybe they go on a crime spree, but, mostly, they just sort of pal around, doing "guy things." If we're to believe FOXFIRE, when gals congregate, they engage in slightly more esoteric rituals, like taking their shirts off and tattooing their breasts.

It has been said that every same-sex bonding picture has a homoerotic undercurrent. This may not always be true, but there's no doubt about the lesbian leanings in FOXFIRE. The film never crosses the line from the unspoken to the acted-upon, but there are enough longing looks and pregnant pauses to make the reality of the situation apparent to even the most oblivious viewer. However, the issue of lesbianism in never confronted head-on, so we aren't given the opportunity to judge whether its inclusion would have made FOXFIRE a better motion picture.

FOXFIRE, which is based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oats, has undergone significant modernization to change the setting from the '50s to the '90s, but the theme of female empowerment is still at the forefront. The movie opens in a Portland, Oregon high school, where a nasty biology teacher (John Diehl) is tormenting a young female student, Rita (Jenny Lewis), because she won't dissect her frog. He assigns her to detention, where, as it's known, he sexually molests girls. Later that day, when Rita shows up for her after-school punishment, she's not alone. With her are four others: Maddy (Hedy Burress), a "good" student with a promising future; Violet (Sarah Rosenberg), one of the teacher's past victims; Goldie (Jenny Shimizu), an exotic-looking girl with a drug problem; and Legs (Angeline Jolie), a mysterious drifter who has just arrived in town. Led by Legs, the girls make sure the teacher won't be engaging in any more sexual harassment -- they leave him beaten and bloody. The next day, as a group, they are called into the principal's office and suspended. That's when the fun -- which includes a variety of criminal acts -- begins.

The best scenes in FOXFIRE are those where the five protagonists sit together and talk. There's a ring of truth to some of their conversations, and, during these moments, the Foxfire girls attain a multi-dimensional level that they don't have for much of the rest of the film. There are a number of weak plot developments, including the opening stuff with the biology teacher, and the climactic sequence, which involves guns and a kidnapping. Had FOXFIRE eliminated some of the melodrama and remained low-key, it would have been a more enjoyable experience.

Angeline Jolie's Legs is a rebel with a cause. With her wild nature and troubled past, she provides the spark that impels her four friends to turn their backs on conventions. As in HACKERS, Jolie's combination of sensuality and toughness makes for a beguiling portrayal. The other members of the quintet are variations of familiar types. Maddy, from whose point-of-view the story is told, is the girl-next-door with the supportive mother. Rita is the ineffectual virgin. Violet is the sexually promiscuous one. And Goldie is the pot-head with the dysfunctional family. The young actresses do solid, if unspectacular, jobs. With few exceptions, the supporting characters are unpleasant and one-dimensional -- unsympathetic adults and bullying boys.

With its themes of revenge and empowerment, FOXFIRE is big on payback; unfortunately, there's not quite enough here to recompense those who sit in the audience for its hundred-minute running time. It's not as bad as some of the other drek being released on this sad weekend, but even such faint praise doesn't earn it a recommendation.

- James Berardinelli

FOXFIRE and GIRLS TOWN

A film review by Scott Renshaw

Copyright 1996 Scott Renshaw

FOXFIRE

Starring: Hedy Burress, Angelina Jolie, Jenny Lewis, Jenny Shimizu, Sarah

Rosenberg.

Screenplay: Elizabeth White.

Director: Annette Haywood-Carter.

GIRLS TOWN

Starring: Lili Taylor, Anna Grace, Bruklin Harris, Aunjanue Ellis.

Screenplay: Jim McKay, Denise Casano, Anna Grace, Bruklin Harris, Lili

Taylor.

Director: Jim McKay.

Reviewed by Scott Renshaw. Somewhere near the middle of GIRLS TOWN, after its three female protagonists have begun to assert themselves, Emma (Anna Grace) notes that the experience "feels like a movie." "If this was a movie," retorts Patti (Lili Taylor), "we would've killed, like, fifty people by now." It's the THELMA & LOUISE model of female empowerment -- sisters only start doin' it for themselves when men are doing them wrong, and then they do it up with a vengeance. The result is often self- righteousness without much of a story to tell, with shallow female characters who are supposed to deserve our sympathy because they are less shallow than the shallow male characters. In the space of two weeks, we have two films -- GIRLS TOWN and FOXFIRE -- which continue to show what a hard time film-makers are having creating real drama out of the perils of being a young woman. In GIRLS TOWN, the focus is on three best friends at a New Jersey high school, college-bound Emma and Angela (Bruklin Harris) and their single-mom cohort Patti, who are forced to confront harsh truths when their friend and classmate Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis) commits suicide. When the girls get their hands on Nikki's journal, they discover that she had been raped, and begin to discuss the various wrongs men have done to each of them. Eventually, talk isn't enough, and they decide that it's time to take action. Move the story to Portland, and basically you have FOXFIRE. It begins when a drifter called Legs (Angelina Jolie) walks into a high school biology class and stands up for a shy girl named Rita (Jenny Lewis) who is being taunted by the teacher, Mr. Buttinger (John Diehl). When several girls -- including Legs, our artsy narrator Madeline (Hedy Burress), pot-smoking Goldie (Jenny Shimizu) and promiscuous Violet (Sarah Rosenberg) -- learn that Mr. Buttinger has been sexually harassing Rita and other students, they join together to confront him. That confrontation results in a group suspension, and a week where the five girls meet at an abandoned house to become inseparable friends. There are a few fairly significant things GIRLS TOWN does right that FOXFIRE does not. Most notably, the girls in GIRLS TOWN talk like high school seniors, not like some vague melodramatized approximation. Co-stars Harris, Taylor and Grace all contributed to the script, and they have given the dialogue a real punch. GIRLS TOWN also gives its characters' acts of defiance a kind of offhandedness which makes them considerably more interesting. When Emma, Patti and Angela trash the car of a boy who assaulted Emma, there is a casual glee in their retaliation; when they confront the man named in Nikki's journal as her assailant, their actions do not seem pre-meditated. These are young women with little if any idea that their actions are political, and it would seem absurd to play their scenes of vindictiveness as though "I Am Woman" should be playing in the background. That is exactly the opposite of the impression you get from FOXFIRE, where Legs walks into the lives of her four comrades like the Ur-Feminist, and where cries of "It's not fair!" resound through courtrooms. That might lead you to expect a hearty round of man-bashing, with Legs providing the bashing primer for her less hardened friends, and to a certain extent you would be right. But FOXFIRE, despite being based on a novel by a woman (Joyce Carol Oates) and being written and directed by women, plays decidedly like a male fantasy of female bonding. In a sequence which seems to last several hours, the five principal characters take turns getting a flame tattooed on their breasts to signify their shared trials. It's just like we men have always hoped...when women get together, they sit around topless in a candle-lit room drinking liquor from the bottle with a subtle-but-recognizable atmosphere of lesbian eroticism permeating the proceedings. The basic problem with both films is the basic problem with so many female bonding films: they define the characters almost exclusively in terms of their problems with men. Lili Taylor's Patti in GIRLS TOWN is a notable exception, a spunky, lively but not terribly bright young woman who is doing all she can just to keep running in the same place, but Emma and Angela are given little genuine personality. It's even worse in FOXFIRE, where there is so little effort made to understand the characters as individuals they might as well be hand puppets. Madeline develops an intense bond with Legs, but we have virtually no idea why because we know nothing about her life; there are vague references to Goldie's home life, and no reference to Rita's or Violet's at all. They're just female figures to occupy the car in which they take a joy ride, stolen from one of the shadow males who try to keep them down. GIRLS TOWN at least has a bit of verisimilitude working for it, but both GIRLS TOWN and FOXFIRE mistake vandalism for character: I kick ass, therefore I am woman.

GIRLS TOWN: 6.

FOXFIRE: 3.

Firefox (1996)

Grade: 81 "Firefox" is a drama about five teenage girls who become close friends but get into trouble with authority figures. Though critically ignored and maligned, it is actually an excellent film. I liked the cinematography, the characters, and even the eroticism. The plot of "Firefox" has an odious high school biology teacher sexually harassing several of his students. Led by teenaged drifter Legs (then-unknown Angelina Jolie), five girls become involved in an after school altercation with the teacher. He gets his, but the girls are expelled. They begin hanging together in an abandoned house, but Jolie's hostile attitudes towards men and authority disrupts their lives and friendships.

Some spoilers may follow. Critical reaction to "Foxfire" is all over the map, and evenly spread between condemnation, hesitation, and praise. Common themes for criticism include the lesbian character Legs, a lengthy frontal nudity scene considered gratitious, a few male characters who are complete jerks, and the similarity of the film's plot to any number of other films. My only criticism is the abandoned house: how could such a lovely house, surrounded by woods, remain empty and open. It is a plot contrivance to give the young women a private hangout. Too much is made of the lesbian themes of the movie. Of the five girls, only Legs is a lesbian. Maddy has a boyfriend, Violet is promiscuous, Rita is shy but fantasizes about men, while druggie Goldie is asexual. Jolie's character has an unresolved anger towards men, perhaps because of a troubled relationship with her own father. The film's occasional homoeroticism is limited to Legs, and whatever interest is returned to her by the other girls is from friendship. There are two male characters in "Foxfire" that are jerks: the predatory teacher, and a jock who for some reason wants to revenge that teacher's downfall. The teacher character is too interesting to be a stereotype, while the hateful jock helps provide needed tension in the film. I don't have problems with either character. There is also Goldie's father, who attempts toughlove to reform his troubled daughter. He clearly cares for her, and in the end you feel sorry for him. One theme that I liked about the movie is that reckless behaviour has negative consequences. A teacher is assaulted; those responsible are expelled. Stop signs and red lights are run; the car gets flipped. They break into a school; they unintentionally start a fire. A student experiments with drugs; she becomes a heroin addict. I liked cinematography as well. The close-ups all seem appropriate, and the camera follows the action nicely.


Links to "Foxfire" reviews online:

Rough Cut Reviews: A very short, mixed review. Includes pic.
Film.com: A review from someone who actually knows about film!


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