Sony // 1996 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // June 26th, 2000
One rebel showed them how to break all the rules.
To my way of seeing things, Foxfire is one of the more underrated flicks in recent memory. I love teen angst movies with moody, atmospheric modern rock soundtracks. I love movies about underdogs taking on the powers that be. I love beautiful lesbians with bee-stung lips. I love movies that let the ladies step up to the plate and really pound one home. I love Angelina Jolie's breasts, both of them.
Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates and directed by (at that time) first time feature director Elizabeth White, Foxfire has all of that stuff, so its one of my all time favorite films. I don't know why it didn't get more attention when it came out. But, when I saw it was heading for DVD, I staked my claim for it. Not that I had to push my fellow reviewers out of the way or anything, but what do they know about good teen angst, modern rock, underdog, lesbian, girl-power, breasty movies? Very little I think!
Foxfire is about a group of "definitely not A-list" high school girls about to graduate. Like most girls, and boys, at that age, they are petty much just riding the hormone storm and hoping to make it to college, or whatever else they see in their future. And, like many girls, some in this crowd are also experiencing some sexual abuse from one of the teachers at the school, but are too scared to talk about it.
Maddy, played by Hedy Burress (Getting Personal, Lost and Found), is an aspiring art student. She thinks she's got it down pretty well, with a cool boyfriend and art college coming up soon. She is the co-main character, and provides the narration for the film. Goldie, played by Jenny Shimizu (Ding Dong, The New Women), is a young Asian girl with a drug problem, an abusive, distant father, and a useless stepmother. Violet, played by Sarah Rosenberg, is the local trailer-trash tramp, but we don't get to know much of her background. Rita, played by Jenny Lewis (Pleasantville, Little Boy Blue, Trading Hearts) is a wallflower type, with no real self-esteem, and the primary target of the sexual abuse.
One day, an older and mysterious girl comes to town, played by Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted, Pushing Tin, Gia). By circumstance (or is it?) she crosses their path, and takes them under her wing. Before they know it, she's helped them take their revenge upon the abusive teacher, and given them a taste of the power that they could have if they had the guts to reach out for it. But, she also gives them their first taste of what the system can do when you go against the grain. They get suspended from school for two weeks, no one believes their accusations, and the jocks turn against them because the teacher was their coach.
The girls really begin to bond, and start to hang out in an abandoned house near the river. They start to gain a reputation as outsiders and probably lesbian witches, or whatever people's little minds can come up with. They had never really been friends as such, but the preceding events brought them together and turned them into a bit of a crew.
The jocks get one of their girlfriends to lure Maddy to their car, where they try to kidnap and rape her. But Legs, Jolie's character's nickname, rescues her and they steal the jock's car, get chased by the police, and flip the car down a hill trying to escape. The girls are left off on probation, but Legs gets six months in lockup, because the jocks and the girlfriend lie in court.
Forced apart, and kept home, things begin to calm down a bit. But then they find out that Goldie has run off, and that she is strung out on heroin. They rescue her and attempt to force her father into giving them money to put her into rehab. They won't tell him where Goldie is, because they know what he will do. Eventually, Legs snaps, grabs the father's gun, and they kidnap him. During the kidnapping, Goldie's father is accidentally shot, but not before he hears enough to understand what is really going on with his daughter and to wake him up.
There is one scene in particular that, to me, shows the big difference between a girl-power flick and a guy flick. After they successfully kick the abusive teacher's butt, they retire to the abandoned house that serves as their hideaway. Legs pulls out a home made tattoo kit, whips off her shirt, and tattoos a flame on her breast as a remembrance of their victory. The other girls decide that they want her to give them one as well.
This scene comes off as a very deeply spiritual time of bonding between the girls, but its something that would only work in a girl-power film. Somehow, I'm guessing that you'll never see a film where a couple of guys are bonding and one says, "Chuck, this is really a special moment. Come over here and tattoo your name on my ass." It just wouldn't be the same in some way. Not that I'm complaining or anything, since Angelina's breasts work just fine for me, but its an interesting commentary on the "male vs. female in the movies" thing.
I think that all around this film just has a great vibe to it. Angelina Jolie does a great job with the Legs character. She has just the right mixture of aloof coldness and inner hurt that you feel for her and understand why she does what she does. In particular, when Legs has to get out of Dodge and Maddy can't bring herself to come along, she really nailed the moment and left me all weepy in a big way. Despite being unnaturally beautiful, Jolie can get beyond that and show pain, as she also did well in Gia.
I also found Jenny Shimizu very intriguing. Other than some small part in a film I'd never heard of, this was her first real role I think. Though I'd never heard of her either, she was evidently a model before this. My heart really went out to her character and she pushed a number of my buttons for whatever reason. I'll be interested to see what else she does in the future. Of course I'm a well-known admirer of waifish Asian women, but it was more than that I think.
I was surprised to find out that this film had been given the anamorphic treatment. But it's from Columbia TriStar and they pretty much do everything anamorphic these days. Certainly a film like this would have not stood a chance of being anamorphic not too long ago.
The audio is just 2.0 Dolby Surround. Probably it was no great loss, since this is not an action flick, but it would have been nice to have a 5.1 mix anyway. The modern rock soundtrack is prominent in this film and that was well mixed, from soft ballads to grunge screamers, and it is used to very good effect in setting the atmosphere.
For an anamorphic disc, the transfer is somewhat disappointing in quality. I assume that they used an old analog laserdisc master or something of that nature? Anyway, it's relatively noisy with a good number of artifacts, though still far better than letterboxed, so I guess I shouldn't complain. If you aren't using a video scaler, you might not notice them all that much. But noisy transfers really give scalers a hard time, and cause even more artifacts than are actually in the material.
It's a bummer that there was no commentary track. Female directors of this caliber material are all too few and far between even now, so it would have been great to hear Elizabeth White's thoughts on the film. I would imagine that it would have been very enlightening. The only extras provided are trailers and a filmography of Angelina Jolie.
I love this film, and I highly recommend it. Perhaps it's a little more than you might feel comfortable watching with your high school aged daughter, but don't think from my description that it's something that would lead her astray, far from it actually. It is really a film about women asserting themselves and getting their lives on track, despite the obstacles and detours, but also recognizing the ramifications of doing it in the wrong way.
So accidentally leave it for her to watch while you are away if you can't do it in person. I think it would be a good thing for her to see. I wouldn't recommend it for girls under say 16 or so, since it is rated R. But, it would be a waste to only let adults see this film, since it would speak very powerfully to girls of the age of its main characters.
For us adults, if you like teen angst or girl-power films as much as I do, then you'll definitely want to see this one. It could have been given a little more technical attention; but, with content this strong, some sins can be forgiven if necessary.
Columbia gets a stern gaze down the nose from the bench for failing to give this film the transfer it deserves. But the perpetrator is definitely acquitted, for it's efforts in allowing women to express themselves in such a powerful way. The overall judgment value reflects the power of the content, despite the failure to present it in its optimum form.
Review content copyright © 2000 Dean Roddey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer