Written by Caballero Oscuro
Aside from stating the obvious (!), the title of this documentary refers to a rock ’n’ roll camp where girls learn to play music and form bands. The girls in the film range in age from 8-18 and travel to Portland from all over the country for the opportunity to bond with fellow budding musicians, learning the basics of playing instruments and writing songs while concurrently dealing with the pressure of assembling and maintaining a band from scratch. The week-long camp leads up to a public performance in front of around 700 people on the final day, giving the girls tremendous incentive to keep their bands together and deliver the rock.
The filmmakers spend some time interviewing the camp counselors, who all appear to be quite unique and interesting in their own right, but the focus is on four of the girls attending the camp. There’s Laura, a bubbly Korean girl from Oklahoma who thrives at the camp in spite of some insecurities; Misty, a former meth addict in her late teens; Palace, an eight-year-old with an angelic face but a hard rock sneer and scream; and Amelia, another whirling dervish of an eight-year-old with apparent ADD issues. Of the four principal subjects, Laura has the most insightful comments and most interesting screen time, injecting the production with her inescapable charm.
The musical performances are generally about as awful as you would imagine coming from a bunch of neophytes with only one week of practice. Accordingly, the footage of the girls practicing and writing their songs is far from interesting, although it does give a peek into their creative process. However, the music clearly isn’t the goal, it’s just the common ground that binds the girls together as they search for acceptance with each other and learn about teamwork, musicianship, and girl power. While they learn about music, the girls also relate their various issues to each other and the camera, giving viewers a glimpse into what it means to be a girl in the US in this century.
Surprisingly, the film was directed by two men, Shane King and Arne Johnson. They pepper the production with occasional needless statistics about teenage girls to drive home the point about the difficulties faced by the fairer sex. They also give some screen time to a few of the parents of the featured children to little positive effect. Their film is strongest when it’s fully focused on the four engaging girls they selected, as even without the band camp framework the girls make for fascinating documentary subjects.
Girls Rock! is now playing in limited theatrical release. For more information and upcoming additional cities, visit the website.