A femalecentric variation on Don Argott’s Rock School, Girls Rock! presents a warts-and-all portrait of an establishment aimed at teaching kids how to unleash their inner rock god. In this instance, that institution is Oregon’s Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls, a one-week program held in a warehouse for girls ages eight to 18 who want to let down their hair, plug their axes into amps, and bang their heads. Arne Johnson and Shane King’s doc focuses on four campers with various social and/or emotional issues in an effort to paint the camp as a place aimed not just at rock tutelage—though many participants are offered their first taste of playing instruments and writing songs—but at rehabilitating females’ confidence, self-images, and interpersonal skills. Such rehabilitation is espoused by counselors (many of whom are in notable groups) and carried out via a program that forces girls, in a five-day span, to form bands, write songs, and perform at a showcase concert. The sight of kids awkwardly trying to find bandmates in a big hall is accurately likened to a playground scene, pinpointing a strain of adolescent awkwardness that plagues many attendees. And Girls Rock! fairly depicts the camp as a community in which young women can safely explore and express their feelings, as well as develop vital social skills. Unfortunately, the directors sacrifice substantially investigating the four girls—their troubled home lives, psychological conditions, and other pertinent issues are addressed with soundbite succinctness—for Morgan Spurlock-ish populist gimmickry. Animated sequences that juxtapose ‘90s female rock pioneers with today’s Britney-fied culture, or ones that deliver depressing stats about women’s educational success and body image, have a punk-collage aesthetic that’s in tune with the milieu’s brash, ragamuffin spirit. Yet such visual devices are also glib to the point of being reductive. In-depth insights about these particular girls, as well as the modern female condition, seem there for the taking, but Johnson and King frequently opt for hip flash, an all-too-familiar trade-off made by modern nonfiction films that ultimately proves a disservice to their captivating subjects.
- Shadow Distribution
- 90 min
- Shane King, Arne Johnson
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