Girls Town

on August 21, 1996 by Lael Loewenstein
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   Three friends bond over the death of a classmate in this raw film by Jim McKay. "Girls Town" won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for its experimental collaborative script, for which the cast shares credit. Bruklin Harris (memorable in "Dangerous Minds") and the ubiquitous, scene-stealing Lili Taylor ("I Shot Andy Warhol") share the screen with Anna Grace. When this trio of girls in the 'hood discover that their friend's recent suicide was due to guilt over an undisclosed rape, they vow to fight back. In the process, they learn volumes about their own patterns of abuse and dependence and about their capacities for resistance.
   Taylor, by now the de facto princess of indie films, is extremely strong as an unwed mother struggling to finish high school. Director McKay uses long, fluid takes that heighten the realism of his scenes. Some of these are compelling, such as the nighttime meeting in which each girl confesses a painful secret from her past. Still, even the moments of raw power are overshadowed by a script that feels redundant and wandering.
   Even for an indie film, the screenplay for "Girls Town" is a ground-breaking effort, and for that alone McKay and his actors deserve praise. But the story is so far off from conventional formulas that, ironically enough, it ultimately justifies the need for structure. True, the dialogue feels authentic, but street slang for its own sake loses its impact very quickly.
   Yet "Girls Town" holds appeal, partly because it could so easily have been an uplifting message movie but it refuses to be so simplistic. The film ends much as it began, with the girls meeting on a street corner, a bit more enlightened than they were, but probably destined to repeat the same self-destructive patterns "Girls Town" seeks to examine.    Starring Lili Taylor, Bruklin Harris and Anna Grace. Directed by Jim McKay. Written by Jim McKay, Anna Grace, Bruklin Harris, Denise Hernandez and Lili Taylor. Produced by Lauren Zalaznick, Kelley Forsyth and Sarah Vogel. An October Films release. Drama. Screened at Sundance.
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