An inadvertently vicious indictment of teenage empowerment, 17 Girls (17 filles) half-heartedly tries to portray its central characters – a group of high school girls who enter a so-called “pregnancy pact” – as budding feminist heroes, but undermines them with an endless stream of clichés, generalisations and one-dimensionality.
When the popular but immature Camille (Louise Grinberg) accidentally falls pregnant to a mystery boy, her school friends decide to join her in pregnancy by any means necessary, with no devious scheme off limits: some try unprotected one-night stands, others trap their boyfriends, one even pays a schoolmate to sleep with her. Literally one afternoon is spent devising their plan, which is to raise their children as a group and support each other financially and emotionally throughout their pregnancy and motherhood without any outside assistance.
It’s a collective decision portrayed as a petulant middle-finger challenge to their parents and authority figures who, without fail, disapprove of their choice and pressure them not to keep their babies. To be fair, the film is clearly of the opinion that the elders are wrong not to support the teens’ decisions, but the subtext is that teenagers cannot be trusted to make adult decisions.
Their search for independence and identity is painted as misguided adolescent folly, punctuated with defiant, noisy indie rock to emphasise that these ignorant wannabe riot grrrls are just out for some cheap laughs, future be damned. In one particularly baffling instance, a girl is handed a condom by her recently-acquired beau only to leave it lying beside them on the sand, leaving the audience to wonder how exactly she managed to pretend that she put it on him.
The film clearly attempts to infuse its main characters with Juno-levels of attitude and self-reliance in the face of a community trying to deal with “problem children”, but inexplicably perpetuates the very stereotypes it attempts to debunk. The girls, aged 16 and 17, put no thought into their actions, achieve no personal growth, and have great difficulty dealing with their circumstances.
It insists that it is “inspired by real events that took place in 2008”, but not only does it deviate significantly from the supposedly real events, the true story turned out to be mostly a media beat-up anyway.
While technically well-made, 17 Girls is a surface-level exploration at best, and is at its core – like its main characters – judgemental and immature.
17 Girls is currently playing at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. Click here to find dates in your city.