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With: Laura, Misty, Amelia, Palace
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Arne Johnson, Shane King
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and language
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/21/2007

Girls Rock! (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Kool Things

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new documentary Girls Rock!, directed by Shane King and Arne Johnson, takes a trip to the annual "Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls" in Portland, Oregon and comes away with something a bit more. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if King and Johnson originally thought they were going to get a cool documentary about a lot of teenage girls playing loud music, but their cameras quickly became sounding boards for problems, insecurities and other issues. For their week in camp, the girls, ranging in age from 8 to 18, must form bands, write songs, learn to play instruments -- and learn to play together -- and perform their original songs for a crowd of 700 by the last day. The film narrows its focus on four girls of wide-ranging ages and backgrounds: teenaged Laura an intelligent, full-figured adopted Korean girl with a taste for death metal; the emotionally damaged teen Misty, comes straight from a group home, dreams of playing the bass and finds herself in a hip-hop group; eight year-old Amelia makes a kind of noise music that makes Sonic Youth sound melodic, and writes all her songs about her dog, Pippi; and Palace has a sneering, D.I.Y. attitude that constantly tests the patience of her bandies. So Girls Rock! is basically an intriguing rockumentary on a psychiatrist's couch, like the great Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004), except that the problems of young girls are far more common than those of rich, male rock stars. The filmmakers effectively juggle the girls' stories, and reveal just enough about their home lives to diagnose their behavior. But the good news about rock camp is that the counselors do a great deal more than just teach chord progressions; they attempt to help each girl find her own true self and to draw power from that. The filmmakers include a ream of statistics about young girls and their low opinions of themselves. (Most girls, when asked what they would change about themselves, choose a body part.) Sometimes these tidbits are interesting, but sometimes they feel a bit too much like padding or an attempt at a more journalistic -- and less touchy-feely -- foundation. And so when the climactic concert comes, the girls have hopefully not only learned a song, but have learned how to express themselves, rather than acting out or copying someone else. If only the film had played the entire songs of the four main girls, instead of snippets of several songs. Still, the best thing Girls Rock! has going for it is the fact that it discards the stagnant PBS documentary formula in favor of a more homemade, exploratory feel. And though it has roughly the same depth and breadth as a 3-minute song, it also has a real rock 'n' roll attitude.

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