Girls Town

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


The death of a friend galvanizes three high school young women to reassess their friendship and their lives in this passionate film about the embryonic stages of empowerment. Written by and starring the gifted Lili Taylor (The Addiction, Household Saints) and newcomer Bruklin Harris (Dangerous Minds), the film goes way beyond “My So-Called Life” (and eons away from “Beverly Hills, 90210”) in its ability to capture the spirit of young women on the verge of discovering strong voices. The chameleonlike Taylor plays Patti Lucci, a feisty teenage mother who’s been held back another year and is always late for shop. She leads a fine cast, which includes Harris as Angela and Anna Grace as Emma.

Nothing and everything happens in this film, a yak fest akin to a Latin American telenovela—but with an indie riot-girl edge. Girls Town is an exploration of feminine strength through expression, and all the characters are genuine, including the caring boyfriend who “doesn’t get it”—yet; the abusive partner who haunts the neighborhood; and the smart, caring mother who can no longer connect to a daughter as strong as herself. Even unseen characters prompt us to ask a whole series of questions: What is rape and who do you believe? What will a list in the girls’ bathroom prove? What can you really do to change things, and then what do you change? What happens when you realize you can speak? Who are your true friends—a mechanic? a mother? a journalist? an activist?

The script is terrific, and Jim McKay directs in pensive long takes that allow the women to discover their voices and explore their relationships with one another. The scenes of the neighborhood and the shots of the proud houses repeat like the loop of the classical music riff set to a rap song that permeates the film. And the film’s payoff isn’t pat answers to everyone’s problems, but rather a slow tracking shot away from the hangout and lingering talk of Florida and summer and the future. The moon, she looks great; and the train, there she goes.

— Genevieve Villaflor

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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