17 Girls (2012)

Starring: Louise Grinberg, Juliette Darche, Roxane Duran, Esther Garrel, Yara Pilartz, Soléne Rigot, Florence Thomassin, Frédéric Noaille, Arthur Verret, Philippine Raudu Toulliou.

Director: Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin
Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $10 Thousand

Archipel 35, arte France Cinema, Canal+, Ciné+, CNC, Région Bratagne, Banque Populaire Images, Cinémage 5, Palatine Etoile 8, Soficinéma 7, Programme MEDIA de la Communauté Européene, and Strand Releasing.

Written by: Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin.
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★1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Reportedly, 17 Girls is based on the real-life events which occurred in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2008, where a large number of high school aged girls attempted to become pregnant within weeks of one another.  Although, already documented in two made-for-TV movies and a handful of investigative stories on television,17 Girls still has found its way to the big screen in a cinematic version of an oft-reported event.

When Camille (Louise Grinberg), a 17-year-old high school girl gets pregnant after a “condom accident”, 16 other girls decide to become pregnant as well, banding together as a quasi-teenage MOMS Club of sorts.  That these pregnancies were conveyed to one another as an act of feminine bonding and empowerment is just one of many interesting and rather unique commentaries made in this French import from first-time filmmaking sisters, Delphine and Muriel Coulin.

Set in the lackluster and perhaps even boring French town of Lorient, Camille’s pregnancy is shocking, but all the more so because of her popularity, influence, and inherent leadership traits.  When Camille orchestrates the idea to have all of her friends become pregnant as well, she triggers a pregnancy pact which consumes a faction of fellow high school girls to follow suit.  Their respective motivations are all over the map, but Camille makes a convincing argument that this is something everyone can share together, emancipating themselves from parents, boyfriends, school, etc. and beginning to live their lives as adults.  As shortsighted as that logic is, the message permeates the clique fairly quickly and soon, at a hastily thrown together beach party, procreation is being attempted all over the place.

Okay, not exactly all over the place.  But, in a few weeks’ time, four more girls, Camille’s closest friends, become pregnant.  Then periphery friends disclose positive tests of their own and one younger high schooler, Florence (a terrific Roxane Duran), desperate to fit in, likewise announces her pregnancy as well.  She is included in the pact and eventually, 17 girls in total are pregnant, rallying behind Camille, and standing defiant in a community of people trying to catch their breath and figure out what happened to their daughters, their sons, and what this all means for the high school and community at large.

Or at least I think so.  You see, 17 Girls habitually avoids important and logical questions that this film needs to at least consider in order to sustain its existence.  Specifically, there is next to no interaction between these girls and their parents depicted on screen.  Sure, Camille’s single mother is shocked, saddened, and angry, attempting to play Angry Mom with her daughter’s situation.  And one girl is victimized by her father’s surprisingly abusive response.  Still, no one presents the questions that might satiate viewers who seek clarification on questions such as:  “How could something like this happen?”  “How can one girl have so much influence?”  “Are there issues at home of abuse or neglect that led to this among any of the girls?”  “Where are they boys who have fathered these children?  Are their parents outraged?”  “Does anyone bring the community together to figure out how to create a supportive environment for these babies to be born in, while at the same time analyzing what psychological issues are at play with the girls, the boys, and the families and community with something like this taking place?”

No.  Instead we got a stylish, dare I say dreamy, worldview of these teenage girls spending a ton of time together; smoking, drinking, driving cars recklessly, and living a life not too far removed from an American Spring Break college fantasy.  Thankfully, the Coulins do not rely solely on this narrative approach and we are jolted back to reality when we encounter scenes involving the girls going to water therapy classes for example, or having occasional moments of contemplation.

In the Massachusetts story, school officials downplayed that there was any type of pregnancy pact and never fully atoned for how 18 girls all became pregnant within weeks of one another.  There, the pregnancy outbreak led to the controversial decision to allow contraception to be readily available to students of that particular high school, with parent permission of course.

We simply do not get the whole story with these 17 Girls.  Recognizing that much of the film is told with a naive and even frank innocence about the events transpiring, there is far too little context and not enough insight to make this stick.  Who knows – maybe there was no genuine reason these girls decided to group-impregnate but I simply cannot buy that.  Nor can I believe that they were mostly left to their own devices over those 9 months or so, engaging in late night beach parties, playing soccer with flaming soccer balls, cavorting around all hours of day and night, and all with no parental interventions ever occurring.

With 17 Girls, teen pregnancy almost seems like no big deal, just a minor inconvenience that is made easier when a big group decide to do it together.  I am all for bonding amongst like circumstances and events, but these 17 Girls, as presented in this story and film, come off just as confounding and baffling as the callous and carefree film that recounts their story.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • A curious topic which should make for a fascinating film or documentary some years ahead of now.  17 Girls may perk the interests of those who find the premise too unbelievable to be true, or remember hearing about the actual Massachusetts incident on cable and network news.
  • Roxane Duran, a young female actor, is great here, following up a fantastic and engrossing performance in Michael Haneke’s Oscar-nominated film The White Ribbon.
  • The film is acted competently and there are some genuine moments between the girls that resonate.
NO
  • Borders on trivializing a serious event and making it seem like no big deal.  A melancholy narration piece at the end, pondering the future as single moms congregate together, is strong but cannot save things.
  • Sadly 17 Girls is just off in its tone.  And do we really enjoy watching a boyfriend drive his pregnant girlfriend 70-80 mph in a sports car, while she sits in the front seat screaming in excitement?  Or smoking?  Drinking?  Behaving recklessly?
  • Really though.  This could not have been a documentary?
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