It’s girl power Fifties style in Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire as a brazen girl-gang, taking on man and the world, spread dissent like wildfire.
Pussy Riot by Mark Wilshin
Whether personal and professional in Time Out, sexual in Heading South or pedagogical in his Palme d’Or winning The Class, Laurent Cantet’s films are suffused with the spirit of revolution. And none more so than Foxfire, based on the best selling novel by Joyce Carol Oates – with its pieced together memories of Fifties teenage rebellion and girl gangs. And it’s period like you’ve never seen it before – infused with a documentary style realism evoked through jolting cameras, shabby diners and lopsided pompadour quiffs. But taking on men, patriarchy and the local gang of Viscounts, Foxfire is an outlaw sorority of blood sisters doin’ it for themselves.
Running away from her mother, Legs (Raven Adamson) arrives in Hammond (upstate New York) late one night at Maddy’s window. Given without question a bed to share, Legs decides to create Foxfire – a sisterhood along with bruiser Goldie (Claire Mazerolle), Lana (Paige Moyles), and its chronicler Maddy (Katie Coseni). The girls are united by self-inked tattoos, and come to the rescue of Rita (Madeleine Bisson), picked on and humiliated by maths teacher Mr Buttinger, getting their revenge by daubing his car with red-painted slogans. They then come to Maddy’s rescue, pawed by her uncle in exchange for a typewriter, before recruiting school beauty Violet (Rachael Nyhuus) to their ranks. When the Viscounts bully Lana and Violet and Legs pulls a knife on the school steps, the girls give up school for good. But after a joyride in a stolen car and five months in Red Bank State Correctional Facility for Legs, the girls start to dream of ruling their own roost – a man-free paradise in a dilapidated house out of town.
Of course, this matriarchal paradise can’t last. And it’s not so much the strong arm of the law tightening its grip around them – their crimes go largely unreported, their male victims either too ashamed or compromised to go to the police. But rather a threefold threat to the girls’ earthly paradise – Legs’ hubris that she can take on multi-millionaire patriarch Kellogg and ransom him for a million dollars, Maddy’s waning belief in the purity of Foxfire’s flame (although it’s never quite spelled out how disillusioned she becomes by the girls’ backbiting and wily manipulations) and their burgeoning sexuality – Rita the first to give up on the no-boys rule.
Perhaps it’s all in the name, after all foxfire is the phosphorescent light given off by fungus and decay. And while it might have been intended as a ground-razing rebellion that later also comes to represent the foxy honey traps the girls embody luring men into car lots and hotel rooms to encourage them to part swiftly with their money, the flame of independence starts slowly to lose its shine. The girls’ rebellion progresses from a sisterhood of self-defence to female empowerment and self-sufficiency, still vulnerable to both men and themselves. But as they follow Legs’ lead, for fear of being victims themselves, they instead become aggressors, their confederation of equals is cracked, refusing Marigold entry into their sorority (sexual equality in the Fifties doesn’t yet extend to blacks) and trying to take on the might of patriarchy and the establishment in the shape of Mr Kellogg – an icon of churchgoing conservatism and male capitalism.
Foxfire is doomed, the girls’ sexuality either put seemingly for ever on hold or turned inwardly into a nest of internecine lesbian rivalry. And Legs’ own intentions are clear from a stolen kiss with Kellogg’s daughter Marianne. Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire, capitalising on the vibrant energy of youth, focuses on the novel’s action, but neglects its complexity – the Bildungsroman of a would-be writer and the fallibility of memory. Unlike the whipcrack wisecracking of The Class, Foxfire is listless in its slow progression of events, perhaps due to the source novel’s flatlining story arc that doesn’t lend itself so well to the cinema screen, the non-professional cast or Cantet’s first entirely English language film. And while Foxfire is intelligent and engaging, it never quite catches fire.
Firefox is released on 9th August 2013 in the UK