Movie Review - Girl Flu

For one, nearly teenage girl, it's the last day of 6th grade, but it's also her first day of womanhood. Writer-director Dorie Barton, in her directorial debut, follows a prepubescent girl during her week-long entry into pubescence. Several films have featured a girl going through menstruation for the first time, but typically it's one scene in the film. A girl's initial period has never really been the focus of the entire story. This film is unique in that way, and Barton does it with such sweetness, empathy and humor.

Jade Pettyjohn (School of Rock) stars as Robin Styles aka "Bird," a 12-year-old girl in southern California. She's being raised in Los Angeles by her single mother, a liberal, free-spirit named Jenny, played by Katee Sackhoff (Longmire and Battlestar Galactica). Robin's friends tease her for being a little uptight. They call her "little miss perfect" from the valley. Jenny, on the other hand, is not uptight. If this were 40 or 50 years ago, she'd probably be called a hippie.

When the physical changes start to happen, Robin treats it deadly serious, probably because she was embarrassed in front of her friends. Meanwhile, Jenny is happy. Robin thinks she's dying or at times acts as though she were, whereas Jenny wants to have pancakes and ice cream, as well as smoke pot. Barton's film then becomes about how these two co-exist, how they bounce off each other and how they perhaps need to learn from each other, but not without a lot of mood swings.

Barton doesn't dive into it too explicitly but it's obvious that Jenny is a young mother or she had Robin when she was still young, maybe right out of high school. Jenny does have other women to lean on, a coven of other hippies and lesbians, but not her mother who is off in another country. Jenny was probably a child who had a child and probably didn't get to do a lot of fun things back then but she wants to do them now, now that Robin is more independent. Robin doesn't want to be called a baby or treated as a child per se, whereas Jenny is the opposite. All Jenny wants is to act like a child or rather a reckless teenager. At times, it's difficult to discern who the parent is between them.

Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under and Law & Order) co-stars as Arlo, the sexy and sweet musician, a guitarist who Jenny is dating. He's the heart and soul of this movie. He loves Jenny and her daughter. He's there for both of them in a way that probably no man ever has. He's a gentle and giving presence that is reliable, but Jenny doesn't want or really can't handle a commitment, which is seemingly what Arlo wants.

This movie is a coming-of-age for Robin in a way that we've rarely seen, but it's also a coming-of-age for Jenny, despite being 30-years-old. It's only appropriate and very fitting that Barton incorporates "To Sir With Love" as one of the prominently featured songs here. Unlike that song, the arc isn't exactly from crayons to perfume. For Robin, it's more like from toy dolls to Tampons.

What makes Barton's film particularly inviting though is the warmth of it. It's not just the warmth with which the characters have for each other. It's the warmth that Barton has in the overall color tone of this movie. There is a preference for yellow and orange, which subtly makes the movie welcoming, even when we've witnessed heated or awkward encounters.

The warmth of the movie does too come from the characters, especially the film's supporting cast, which includes Heather Matarazzo (The L Word and Now and Again) as Lilli, a slightly sassy and no-nonsense girl, Judy Reyes (Devious Maids and Scrubs) as Celeste, an earth-mother type, Diego Josef (Message from the King) as Carlos, a skateboarder and love interest for Robin, and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments) as Gabriel, a Prius-driving almost hook-up that Jenny meets. So, from the characters to the colors to the creativity, Barton has crafted a truly charming film.

Not Rated but has some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.

Available on September 29 on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

For more information, check out this interview of Dorie Barton from last year.


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