SXSW Movie Review: It’s A Man’s World In GIRLS AGAINST BOYS

GIRLS AGAINST BOYS is not the movie it thinks it is. 

Austin Chick's Girls Against Boys is clothed in the sort of misguided feminism that shoves a gun in the hands of leggy bartenders and calls them empowered. The film is a fantasy rape revenge scenario that tries really hard to convey the controversial message that rape is bad. It's worth noting that Austin Chick is a man. Now, it's entirely possible for a man to write and direct a nuanced and compelling portrait of a woman's emotional response to sexual assault, but Girls Against Boys is not that movie.

Shae (Danielle Panabaker) has just been dumped by her older, married boyfriend. She decides to cut loose with Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), a wild-eyed co-worker at her bar, and the girls throw back some drinks, grind on the dance floor and keep the party going at the home of a few frat guys they meet. One of the bros, seemingly gentle and concerned, walks the drunken Shae back to her apartment, and then forces himself inside and rapes her. Shae tries to turn to her mother, her classmate, the police and her ex-boyfriend, but in the end only Lu is there for her.  The two women embark on a bloody crime spree, wreaking gory revenge on the men who did them wrong.

The visual tone of the film is cool, very stylized and interesting. Kathryn Westergaard's cinematography is strong, selling a strange, dreamy quality that suits the rabbit hole feeling of Shae and Lu's journey. And the two leads give good performances. Panabaker is an actress whom I've always found rather bland, and - particularly for the first half of the film, when she portrays Shae as vulnerable and isolated - she's great here. LaLiberte sells a crazed, sexy performance that looks fun as hell to play, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of tonal sense.

Yes, while the visual language of the film is very clear, the thematic message is muddled as shit. When embarking halfway through the film on a fantasy revenge spree, Chick seems to foster a Thelma and Louise sensibility; Lu and Shae have been overlooked and mistreated for the last time, and they're going to give back with interest every bit of shit the universe has thrown at them. And yet after the spree is over, half an hour of the film remains. Shae doesn't feel any better after killing almost every man she knows, and Lu is revealed to be a casual sociopath with no actual motives. Shae instantly falls for the cute nerd in her feminist studies course (a class that exists solely to bookend the narrative with two heavy-handed lectures on gender inequality in the media), and Lu of course grows wildly jealous and unhinged. Even though we can easily guess where Girls Against Boys is headed, that doesn't mean it makes any damn sense. The ending is both predictable and maddeningly nonsensical. 

There are several other, smaller issues with the movie - logical gaps brushed away by pulling the fantasy card, a pointless flash forward that opens the film for the single blatant reason of beginning with the strongest stylistic scene of the movie, even though it makes no narrative sense - but the essential problem of Girls Against Boys is so insurmountable that nothing else actually matters. This is a story meant to be told from the perspective of a victimized woman who regains her power, and yet makes no attempt to illustrate who that woman actually is. Shae is just "Woman/Virgin," the innocent, the victimized, the impressionable, the misguided. Lu is simply "Woman/Whore," the lunatic, the sex bomb, the manipulator. Chick first tells us that we should celebrate their rampage of vengeance and then that we should condemn them for it, and yet we are never asked to truly understand why these two women make their gruesome choices. Girls Against Boys is not a woman's story. It's not even a human story. It's a substanceless lark disguised as a murky treatise against female objectification, while never transcending objectification itself.