Breaking the Girls
There is a story that has floated around for ages that at least has the ring of truth about it. When Alfred Hitchcock was asked if his work being compared to that of other directors bothered him his reply was "not as long as they make certain to say "not as good as"" it sounds consistent with other confirmed Hitchcock quotes that might appear to be pure hubris except this man could consistently substantiate the claim. One movie that falls into this category is ‘Breaking the Girls’. Although it does rely on a theme that was best utilized by The Master of suspense it does not achieve the quality required for such a comparison. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, I did, but a film buff enjoys a Hitchcock thriller for its perfection, this movie I liked despite is flaws. I first enjoyed the DVD of the movie back in April of this year thanks to my purchase of a region free DVD player. It took about seven months for region one distributors to catch up but they have providing a means for broader distribution here in the States. It is a reasonably well crafted thriller and worth adding to most collections and certainly deserve the exceptionally harsh reception many critics applied to its ranking. In some ways it is akin to the kind of paperback novel you bring on vacation. You want something that you will enjoy with a plot sufficiently cohesive to hold your attention but little that requires an abundance of attention. Throw in a few salacious scenes and you have the cinematic equivalent to a modern pulp read for the beach.
Sara Ryan (Agnes Bruckner) is a twenty year old with a lot going for her. She is Intelligent, driven and beautiful to anyone observing her come to the conclusion that her bright future is laid out clearly before her. Currently Sara is a sophomore at Brown University in Pre-Law. To pay for her expenses Sara spends her night as a bartender at a local popular joint frequented by the privileged students. When a classmate, Brooke Potter (Shanna Collins) claims she witnessed Sara skimming from the tip jar she reports her to the manager. The immediate result was her being fired followed shortly thereafter by the loss of her scholarship and expulsion from school.. While in a state of near shock Sara comes to the attention of a beautiful young woman, Alex Layton (Madeline Zima). The pair begins to talk with Alex offering a desperately needed sympathetic ear for the distraught Sara. This leads commiserating over their respective enemies. Alex comes up with an idea presented in a half-jokingly manner that the kill each other’s foes. Sara dismisses the proposal as a sick jest but has to reconsider that stance once the person she mentioned turns up dead.
Okay, the exchanges takes place in a bar rather than a train but the concept is essentially identical; the murder switch. With ‘Strangers on a Train’ Alfred Hitchcock created a classic theme in storytelling and consistent with that position in the zeitgeist prone to be reinterpreted on a fairly regular basis. In this case the gender, age and social status of the participants might have changed but thus film goes through the requisite check list of plot points. To her credit screenwriter Guinevere Turner and her co-author Mark Distefano did endeavor to infuse a different subtext to the fundamental themes to set the story apart from the typical switch murder motif. While all of the nuances added are not completely successful credit must be given for the try. While this is the second script for Mr. Distefano Ms has a broader and eclectic list of credit many of which provided the basis for some of the creative choices made here. She wrote the screenplay for the controversial film ‘American Psycho’ praised and condemned for the aspects resulting in a similar reaction here; the juxtaposition of sex and violence. These elements are the perennial targets for morality watchdog groups including the MPAA.
Although the plot twists were intriguing the directorial styling of Jamie Babbit reveals some constraints imposed by her extensive prior experience. Most of her work as a director has been helming televisions series. It must be noted that this list of shows is not only quite expansive but contains many examples of the best TV has offered. A number of them champion the archetype of the strong, independent woman occasionally featuring lesbian overtones as crucial to the development of the character. In this portion of her credits ‘Girls’ and ‘The L Word’ a dominant. Also included in the myriad of genres undertaken by this talented direct encompass such well-regarded shows as ‘ The Gilmore Girls’ , ‘Rizzoli & Isles’, ‘Drop Dead Diva’ and ‘The United States of Tara’ all of the episodes Ms Turner had helmed are geared towards the intrinsic strength of a female protagonist. One of her previous feature length films was made fairly early in her career and remains a cult classic in the mainstream an LGBT community; ‘But I'm a Cheerleader’.
Perhaps the considerable amount of time Mr. Babbit spent working in television sharpened his skill set gearing it towards limited duration projects. The major concern here is the pacing; it drags almost as if he envisioned a story arc suitable for an episode now required to expand it to the length of a movie, albeit one less than an hour and a half. It might have been an improvement if the time was extended with greater detail pertaining to the backstory of one of both of the young women leading them to the choices made in the story. More on why Sara was predisposed to Alex’s influence or what contributed to Alex’s sociopathic propensities. This would better fit the time requirements while adding to the audience’s understanding of the characters and their actions. The proposal made by Alex was she would kill Brooke, Sara’s nemesis in return for Sara dispatching Nina (Kate Levering), Alex’s ex mother-in-law and former lover.
These alterations does skew the film thematically towards the erotic thriller end of the genre spectrum although not as sexually charged as ‘ Bound’ which also examined a more experienced woman using sex to influence a naive accomplice into criminal activity that person would not otherwise have considered. The stalled pacing leads to a third act that can’t quite pull the loose ends of the plot threads together properly. The casting is one element of the production that contributes to the enjoyment that can be garnered from the movie. Shawn Ashmore has become recognizable for his role as Bobby Drake, aka ‘ Iceman’ in the X-Men franchise and twin brother of Aaron Ashmore who has also gained notoriety in the Sci-Fi community for his parts in television’s ‘Smallville’ and ‘ Warehouse 13’ . Shawn wears the part of the object of Sara’s attention, Eric Nolan, like a comfortable sweatshirt. Alex reinforces her control over Sara by helping her get closer to Eric even though Alex has personal designs on her new friend. As Sara, Ms Bruckner has taken on one of the more layered roles so far in her burgeoning career. Prior to this she has been in a couple of supernatural thriller and some TV work. This part gave her something to help extend her abilities but taking out of the comfort zone of familiar roles. In some respects art imitates life with the character Ms Zima undertakes. After seven seasons growing up on the popular television sit-com Madeline Zima has embraced more mature roles. Several of them such as her featured part on the adult themed Showtime hit, ‘ Californication’ required smoking, foul language and nudity. Having left her little girl persona in the past Ms Zima has repeatedly demonstrated a flair for provocative roles without going overboard from artistic expression. Her experience in intense character portrayals such as Alex conveys a ring of truth when juxtaposed to Ms Bruckner’s introduction to this type of character. While not great and short of what it could have been there are sufficient aspects here to watch and enjoy this one.