Judge Kristin Munson wants to rock & roll all night, but she has a 9 o'clock curfew.
The Real Camp Rock!
Everything about Girls Rock! demands that I love it, but I can't honestly say that I do.
A band camp run by Rock & Roll feminists where girls from 8 to 18 spend a week learning to play in a band and getting lessons in self-defense and self-esteem while most poor kids are off making macaroni pictures and other fugly, useless crafts? Awesome.
Opening with the pounding alt-rock anthem of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" and showing 8-year-olds throwing devil horns and a girl on the floor pulling off Hendrix moves with a guitar that's taller than she is? Awesome.
The interview where a pint-sized hipster is asked if she writes all her songs about her dog in an "isn't that adorable?" tone and she comes back with "I'm only gonna do about 14," like she has a concept album in the works? So. Very. Awesome.
But after the initial, joyful rush of the first 30 minutes, this documentary seems to run out of steam.
Girls Rock! can't quite decide if it's a doc about the camp experience using four girls as touchstones or one about four girls in particular, using the camp experience to chart their growth. It's a distracting tug of war, with chunks of Women's Studies 101 teaching you things like the percentage of 9-year-olds who've made themselves throw up to lose weight, alternated with even longer chunks of adolescent in-fighting. Korean American metalhead Lisa has to endure being called a 'twinkie ("yellow on the outside, white on the inside") and former gang member Misty, and Palace, the apple-cheeked daughter of a boutique owner, have the same anger issues.
The problem is a week doesn't offer up a lot of footage to construct a solid story out of, especially not the feel-good girl power one the directors are going for. Sure, someone realizes she's not as weird and uncool as she thought she was, but five days at camp isn't usually a massive, life-changing experience, unless that camp happens to look out on Crystal Lake. Instead, there are spats over band names and tween-aged temper tantrums and the more well-adjusted subjects disappear for long stretches because their bands aren't dishing up the conflict. Poor Amelia, of the doggy album, is confident and has no obvious hang-ups, so she pretty much vanishes until the finale.
Even Liberation is unsure of what exactly filmmakers are going for, slapping the PG DVD's case with quotes encouraging family viewing and then sticking an R-rated trailer (about a teenage baby-killer no less) at the beginning.
Some shots take a minute to focus and cords and booms keep appearing on screen, but otherwise the only problem with the picture is some slightly fuzzy interview sections. The 2.0 stereo is more than enough to pump out the camp bands and the soundtrack of all-female groups; only choose the surround option if you want to feel trapped in a school corridor. Since the menu kept loudly commanding me to "Rock & Roll!" with every selection. I kept the TV on mute until I could get to the chapter or extra I wanted.
Unfortunately, the copy I received was riddled with skips, and several of the features wouldn't fully play. The excerpt from a documentary on the Riot Grrl movement froze, but the interviews and update segments rolled on and on and on, including a tour of one girl's CD collection. It's a little unbelievable that an all-girl camp can be visited by a team of male filmmakers and not have that completely alter everyone's behavior. Directors Shane King and Arne Johnson discuss in their commentary how they had a girl from the filmmaking version of band camp as part of their camera crew and that their teenage camerawoman attended the "no boys allowed" workshops to minimize the disruption (which also explains some of the less-than professional shots). Then they admit that Lisa would say things to other campers just because she knew the two were listening, and the non-disruptive thing goes right out the window.
In the end, Girls Rock! is some interesting parts that don't add up to a satisfying whole. I started out loving it, and by the end I felt like I was back in middle school, waiting for the bell to ring. The filmmakers' hearts were in the right place, but the doc runs out of steam well before the 90 minute mark.
Oh, and whoever's idea it was to preface a documentary about self-esteem and
female empowerment with a trailer for The
Hottie and the Nottie? You're not funny.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Liberation Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2009 Kristin Munson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.