girl_flu_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Dorie Barton
Writer(s): Dorie Barton
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 92 mins

Synopsis: Bird, 12, has to become a woman whether she wants to or not when – in the worst week of her life – she gets her first period, is ditched by her impulsive, free spirited mom, and learns that you can never really go back to The Valley. (Source)

Girl Flu isn’t the tweeny version of female puberty we’ve seen a lot of. Anchored by charm and intelligence, it isn’t afraid to contrast the painful awkwardness of fledging womanhood with a hint of family dysfunction and raw realism. Director Dorie Barton proves herself the right person to tell this story, subverting a beautiful mother/daughter relationship and giving us an exhilarating perspective on coming-of-age. The final product is a satisfying, but never saccharine story worth cheering for.

The story kicks off when a precocious girl named Robin (Jade Pettyjohn), called Bird by her friends, experiences her first period in the most traumatic way possible; in front of her fifth grade class while wearing her grandmother’s white jeans. As you can imagine, the following week is one fraught with disastrous social implications, with Bird’s only wish to leave town and escape into anonymity. As she handles a public struggle and tries to cope with the discovery of her own body, she also has to deal with a mother not ready to confront her daughter’s womanhood. Contrasting Bird’s problems with that of her mother’s, Jenny (Katee Sackhoff), the film is an incredible story about the push and pull between young and old, showing that there’s a lot to be learned, regardless of how old you are.

Though serious in subject matter, Barton greatly balances comedy and drama – most of which explores Bird being more mature than her mother. It’s here where the film flourishes, never shying away from the taboo aspects of its subject matter but never forgetting to make us laugh along the way, like when Bird is taught how to use a tampon. The film’s examination of maturity in relation to its two disparate leads makes for an experience that is always pleasantly surprising, driving home that adulthood isn’t something we’re ever truly ready for, but that together, there’s nothing that’s impossible.

girl_flu_1Another great part about the film is its strong anchor of three leads. Each performer finds the correct balance of emotion and eccentricity, making for some really memorable characters. Holding all together is a powerful performance from Jade Pettyjohn. As Bird, Pettyjohn’s discovery that her childhood has come to a crashing end is funny, but also touching, making Bird a fun character to watch without sacrificing depth. As Jenny, Sackhoff is charming and beautiful, hiding an emotional wreck below the surface. On the turn of a dime, she can go from being an immature, weed smoking, free spirit to a distraught parent who realizes that she can’t provide what her daughter needs. At times, she doesn’t say much, but to her credit, she doesn’t have to. Playing her boyfriend is Jeremy Sisto’s Arlo, a source of comfort to both mother and daughter, often times having to deal with both women’s growing emotional problems. Sisto is masculine but never macho. His presence is strong, but never intimidating or imposing. Casting him in the role is a stroke of wonder. Rounding out the supporting cast is Judy Reyes and Heather Matarazzo as Celeste and Lili, giving the film a refreshing same-sex relationship that sidesteps stereotypes or gross misrepresentation.

Director Dorie Barton provides stellar direction with a pace and energy that is lively but never tiring. Girl Flu is a film that beautifully balances the pains of growing up for both a mother and daughter who are not ready. With its distinct voice and subversion of archetypes, the film is a breath of fresh air that’s also unexpected revelation.