"Foxfire"
A Film Review by
Linda Lopez McAlister
on "The Women's Show"
WMNF-FM 88.5, Tampa, FL
May 29, 1999

My pleas for people to send me the titles of feminist films of the 1990s that I have missed, mainly because they haven't played Tampa, at least not while I was in town, are beginning to pay off. I've received several tips, including an e-mail message the other day from someone who reads my reviews on the web who wanted to know why I hadn't reviewed Foxfire which she rated right up there with Antonia's Line as the best feminist films in recent memory. With that kind of high praise I went right out and got a copy of the video. And I need to say thanks to that person for the good tip. I didn't think it was in a class with Antonia's Line (in fact it's a lot more like Marlene Gorris's first film A Question of Silence) but it is indeed a very interesting and unusual feminist film. It was made in 1996 and is the first feature film directed by Annette Carter-Heywood who has short films, tv segments and a lot of experience as a script supervisor in her background. It looks like she was paying attention during all that time on the set because her directing skills are well developed and on display in Foxfire. She gets the most out of a largely inexperienced cast of young actors.

Yes, young. Believe it or not, this is yet another high school film, but one with a difference. It is a feminist high school film. I guess it's not the only one ever made (Girls Town would be another) but it's a rare breed. And this one falls squarely into my category of a "comeuppance film." It is based, quite loosely I gather, on a 1993 novel by Joyce Carol Oates called Foxfire: Confessions of A Girl Gang. Apparently screenwriter Elizabeth White took a lot of liberties with the story and changed the ending completely.

Nonetheless, the film stands on its own as a much more interesting story than you usually find in either a typical high school film or the typical "who-was-that-stranger-anyway?" Western that it often resembles (even though it's not a western).

It starts out in in biology class in a seemingly typical high school in Oregon . They're about to dissect a frog and one of the girls simply cannot bring herself to do it. She is bullied and browbeaten by the teacher when a very tall, lanky young woman in black jeans and a black leather jacket (Angelina Jolie) walks into the room (for reasons never explained) and sits down. After she sees what is going on she calmly walks over and releases the frog and tosses him out the window. When the teacher threatens her she simply follows the frog out the window while announcing that she doesn't go to that school anyway.

Later, in the girls' bathroom to which she has retreated, she learns that the same biology teacher has been sexually harassing the young woman who couldn't slice into the frog, and now she will have to be alone with him on detention in his classroom. The dark stranger challenges the girls to prevent that from happening. Several walk away but four stand with her. They are Maddy, Goldie, Violet, and Rita played by Heddy Burgess, Jenny Shimizu, Sarah Rosenberg, and Jenny Lewis respectively. Once the detention starts and the teacher does too, the others enter the room and rescue Rita from his clutches and give him a pretty stiff beating while they're at it. When they get caught and suspended they all gather at an abandoned house where "Legs," the stranger, is holed up. She preaches a gospel of independence, assertiveness, and standing up for the rights of others.

They invade the high school, they stand up to a bunch of jocks who threaten to get them if the teacher is fired because of them, they rescue one of their own who was about to be kidnapped and raped by the same bunch. And you expect that the film will continue in this vein with the newly liberated young women following their leader to right wrongs and do good. It is to the credit of this film that it doesn't proceed in just this predictable manner.

When the summer film fare that's coming up gets you down, do go to a video store and rent Foxfire. I think you'll like it very much. For the WMNF Women's Show, this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.



Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce this review without permission of the author: mcalister@chuma1.cas.usf.edu

Posted 6/3/99