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Girl Like Her, A
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Rhymes-With-Witch Project"
2 stars

"A Girl Like Her" is a film that is as bad as it is well-meaning and, sad to say, it is incredibly well-meaning. It has a provocative topic and a game cast but no real idea of what to do with them except to squander them on a gimmicky conceit that overly complicates matters and which gives the film a tacky and borderline exploitative feel that only serves to distract from the honest points that it presumably wanted to make in the first place.

The subject at hand is the epidemic of bullying among teenagers today--both the new-fangled version made available by modern technology as well as the old-fashioned hands-on variety--and as the film opens, we witness high school sophomore Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth) as she attempts suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills while a news report in the background announces that her school has been named on of the ten best high schools in the country. As it turns out, Jessica has been the relentless target of on and off-line bullying by campus mean girl Avery (Hunter King)--ironically, the two used to be best friends until something happened to spend Avery on her campaign of hate right under the noses of parents, teachers and authority figures who either failed to notice the obvious signals or who deliberately chose to turn a blind eye so as not to cause any sort of friction.

The one person who knows about what Jessica has been going through is friend and fellow outcast Brian (Jimmy Bennett). As it turns out, once the bullying began in earnest, budding filmmaker Jimmy gave Jessica a tiny spy camera to wear every day as a way of chronicling exactly what she is going through, even if Jessica herself refuses to show the footage to anyone in the hopes of alleviating her situation. At the same time, a documentary crew shows up at the school to make what is initially conceived as a film about the school's high standing but which quietly turns into something else once the filmmaker gets word of Jessica's situation and of the footage about her harassment.

In other words, this is another one of those found-footage films, a gimmick traditionally used to breathe life into otherwise tired horror and comedy efforts. In the case of "A Girl Like Her," what we are watching is theoretically cobbled together from Jessica's footage, stuff shot by Brian with his own camera, the material acquired by the documentary crew and even footage shot by Avery herself with a camera given to her by the documentarian who claims that she wants to include her popular girl perspective into the mix but who is clearly hoping for Avery to provide further material with which to hang herself, no pun intended. We even get footage of Jessica lying in a coma in the hospital because her parents have decided that documenting her fight for life will be of additional benefit.

The problem with this is that there are so many cameras on display here, ostensibly to be sure to perfectly capture every single dramatic moment (even the suicide and the rush to the hospital are caught on Jessica's camera), that it begins to strain credulity. For a movie like this to work, the faux-documentary concept has to fade into the background at a certain point so that the gimmickry required to pull it off doesn't steal focus from the story at hand. Here, writer-director Amy S. Weber never manages to clear that hurdle and as a result, instead of getting caught up in the story and in Jessica's horrible plight, I found myself wondering exactly how many camera crews this documentary had at its disposal and why Avery and her equally nasty friends would engage in a series of incredibly incriminating conversations about their culpability in Jessica's suicide attempt when there are people standing right next to them openly filming every word that they are saying. Yes, kids often do stupid things without thinking about them but this is more than a little ridiculous.

An even bigger problem with "A Girl Like Her" is that the ways that it deals with Avery and her bullying also fail to come across as particularly convincing either for a number of reasons. For instance, there is a lot of profanity involved with Avery's taunts towards Jessica but every time an f-bomb is dropped, it has been bleeped away on the soundtrack, a move that demonstrates that Weber is less interested in portraying the true viciousness of the verbal abuse that occurs on a daily basis at a typical high school than she is in tempering things down enough to get an all-important PG-13 rating. Avery also sends hundreds and hundreds of cruel texts to Jessica as well--again, this is a regular occurrence but would she really make sure that every single one came out under her own name? Again, this could have been made plausible, I suppose, but it is just another aspect of the film that shakes whatever credibility it might have maintained in the hands of a more subtle filmmaker.

The worst and most unbelievable scene in the film comes when Avery allows the film crew to come to her house to shoot footage of her and her seemingly picture-perfect family having dinner. As you can probably surmise, appearances turn out to be deceiving and her home life turns out to be nightmarish enough to presumably make one understand why she feels the need to herself lash out at someone. Fine, but the problem here is that the filmmaker and her camera crew have barely entered the house and wiped their feet than the entire family begins self-destructing as barely buried secrets rise to the surface--again, all before cameras that are literally in the same room with them. Remember the scene in "Real Life" where the tired and cranky family tries to have a "normal" meal in front of the cameras that descends into nasty squabbling? Imagine that, only this time around, the laughs are unintentional.

Scenes like this are meant to put a human face on bullying and to allow us to understand the mindset of a bully and what drives them even as we still deplore their actions. Here, I did find myself feeling a certain degree of sympathy for Avery but not for the reasons that Weber presumably intended. What I saw was a girl who behaved despicably but who in turn was also being mistreated by someone as well--the director of the documentary. In this scenario, a director of a film that no sane person would ever pay money to see finds it dovetailing into an infinitely more marketable product and goes to extraordinary lengths to quietly egg her central character--the pretty blonde monster--on in order to get more and more footage to hang her with once the shooting is complete and she has left town. This just adds a curiously exploitative subtext to the material that would be all right if it then dealt with it in any way but Weber ignores this so completely that again, it is almost impossible to for anyone watching to overlook in the way that it sticks out. (I stayed through the credits to see if there was a post-credit scene showing the filmmaker celebrating after having her shamelessly manipulative film picked up for a grossly inflated price by Harvey Weinstein, arguably the only honest way this thing could have ended.)

What makes "A Girl Like Her" especially irritating is that if the film had eschewed its gimmickry and taken a more straightforward approach, it might have actually worked. After all, school bullying is a timely and important subject that deserves a smart and sensitive cinematic depiction that could both tell an engrossing story and help victims find the strength to combat their own personal oppressors. As the two girls at the center of the story, both Ainsworth and King deliver performances that are strong and clearly deserving of a better framework than they have been given here. Yes, it has been made with good intentions but as it turns out, what they say about the road to Hell goes doubly for the road to cinematic Hell.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28637&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/26/15 21:19:08
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Directed by
  Amy S. Weber

Written by
  Amy S. Weber

  Hunter King
  Jimmy Bennett
  Lexi Ainsworth
  Linda Boston
  Amy S. Weber
  Christy Engle

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