Film Title: Foxfire
Director: Laurent Cantet
Starring: Raven Adamson, Katie Coseni, Claire Mazerolle, Madeleine Bisson
Running Time: 143 min
Laurent Cantet, director of The Class, takes a surprising swerve with this take on Joyce Carol Oates’s offbeat feminist novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. Source of a more sensational 1996 adaption featuring a rising Angelina Jolie, the novel follows a group of young women from upstate New York who, harassed and depressed by institutional misogyny, come together to humiliate their tormentors.
They paint obscene graffiti on the car of an abusive teacher. They rough up a local businessman who makes unacceptable advances to his niece. Embarrassed to be shown up by “mere girls”, the victims are reluctant to contact the police. Eventually the gang’s activities escalate and they end up convicted of serious offences.
Set in an anodyne version of the 1950s, Foxfire has the look of a film that urgent fans could transform into a durable cult. That’s to say, it is riddled with conspicuous flaws – uneven acting, dubious location work, questionable period detail – but has an offbeat tone and a political bravery that sets it apart from the less-ambitious cinematic norm.
Like many cult films, Foxfire is also a great deal longer than it needs to be (143 minutes, almost as lengthy as The Lone Ranger). The story is economical enough to be scribbled on a cigarette paper, but Cantet, always an organic film-maker, invites his non-professional cast to swell each scene with improvised dialogue. As a result, we get a good sense of the texture of life in the developing commune. But the storytelling does become sluggish and some political subtexts get drowned in the endless chatter.
Ultimately, the film comes across as a fascinating oddity whose flaws never quite overpower the indisputable sincerity. One minute, a Foxfire member’s rejection of an African-American woman demonstrates the limits of the cadre’s radicalism. The next, an evil businessman cackles diabolically – “They want holiday pay now! Bolshevism!” – in a manner that Mr Burns would feel a little excessive.
Still, name a cult film that does not exhibit such infelicities. Give it time.