There are many things to like about Austin Chick’s revenge film Girls Against Boys. There are also quite a few confounding things that make it a frustrating film to try to get to the bottom of not only from a thematic standpoint but a logical one too. Because of this, it was a mixed bag. Now, in the same breath it is worth noting that the look of it (cinematography) is really beautiful and striking in spots and the two leads, Danielle Panabaker (as Shae) and Nicole LaLiberte (as Lu) are quite solid overall.
The story centers around Shae(Panabaker)- a college age girl working at a bar and carrying on an affair with an older, married guy (who is separated, she insists in one scene to a friend during a study session) and kind of floating through life. After the man breaks up with her, she breaks down at work and happens upon on of her coworkers, Lu (LaLiberte) in a stairway and lets loose with the details. She and Lu decide to head out for a night on the town and end up with some bar guys and back at one of the guy’s flats. Things stagnate and Shae spends a good portion of the time in the bathroom instead of carrying on the party. Deciding she needs to leave, one of the bar guys offers to escort her home. Things go south in a bad way and she is attacked by him outside her apartment (with a visually striking shot with her keys in the foreground, background hazed – really well composed) and left in a heap.
Her pain and shame can only find an outlet with Lu and they concoct a plan to seek out the flat they were the night before and find the guy’s address. This turns murderous quickly and the two of them ramp up their vengeance rampage seemingly with a snap of the finger. There are scenes involving a sexist cop, the rapist from the bar and the married guy all with varying levels of discomfort to watch. There was a highly amusing line/give&take during one of those scenes that I’ll not give away (hint – running way sometimes has its limitations) but it struck me quite funny. I’m kind of glazing over this because the murderous rampage of the two women during this part of the film is very odd and kind of disjointed. It never feels fully enraged but doesn’t feel quietly psychotic either – is like two friends running errands on a Saturday.
Shae’s grasp on reality seems to snap into place after the ordeal but her power struggle with Lu doesn’t and this tug-of-war sets up the conflict and resolution of the last act of the film. Once you reach the ending, you are left with a heap of questions about what actually happened:
Is it possible one of the leads was never there in the first place? Maybe. Could it be that only the very start of the mess actually happened and all that followed was either made up or in someone’s head? Maybe.
I could keep going but there are a few elements of the ending that could be interpreted a multitude of ways; I’d leave it to you to determine what you think actually happened/happens.
I got to thinking about another recent female-centered, revenge (as one of the themes) films, the delightfully batshit American Mary from the Soska Sisters, starring Katherine Isabelle. The depth of her (Isabelle) journey and the extremes the story delves into felt a lot more authentic and screwed up – you’re part of the story whether you like it or not. Whereas, with Girls Against Boys, I felt like there wasn’t that rock solid investment in the pain and the revenge of the lead(s) to warrant a solid emotional response. I get the feeling the ending was supposed to resonate in a stark, unsettling thud on the viewer’s head but I was instead left with a feeling like I missed something along the way. This takes nothing away from the lovely look of the thing, or the two strong female leads, just more the slightly muddled message of the story itself.