Female empowerment rules in "Girls Rock!," which looks at a rock 'n' roll camp for girls ages 8-18.

Female empowerment rules in “Girls Rock!,” which looks at a rock ‘n’ roll camp for girls ages 8-18. In five days, the girls, many of whom have never before played an instrument, will form bands, write songs and perform them in front of an audience of 750 people. Aggressively upbeat docu, helmed by two males ill-equipped to bring any distance to the camp’s pervasive feel-good feminism, tends to relentlessly reiterate points better served by example. Pic’s bouncy cut-and-paste aesthetic wears thin, but the girls do rock. March 7 limited opening looks to attract a largely femme demographic.

Focusing on four specific girls of various ages, docu plunges into the campers’ day-to-day activities, from the awkwardness of forming groups to the joyous anarchy of naming the bands (i.e. PLAID, or People Lying Around in Dirt). Filmmakers Shane King and Arne Johnson frequently use talking-head counselors/musicians to apprise viewers of the sociocultural problems (low self-esteem, pressure to conform to impossible ideals) faced by the girls and the ways in which their musical “journey” addresses these issues.

For 17-year-old Misty, a child of addicted parents who came to camp from a group home after 10 months in a lockdown facility, learning to play bass guitar proves less difficult than puzzling out how to interact with confrontational younger players.

Adopted as an infant from Korea by Oklahoma parents, bubbly death-metal aficionado Laura cheerfully admits to serious self-hatred while marveling at the level of acceptance she encounters at the camp, which she credits with life-transforming powers.

Guitar-playing Amelia, at age 8 already the composer of 14 fiercely atonal songs about her dog Pippi, initially browbeats her small combo with her forceful vision, until communication is slowly re-established through unexpected (and nearly undetectable) harmonies.

But it is precocious, pint-size diva Palace, the pic’s putative star, at once adorable and terrifying, who most explosively reps the contradictions of contemporary girlhood: Rockingly attired and accessorized, she sings of her aspirations to superstardom while denouncing the importance of popularity.

Presenting the camp as a surefire solution, the filmmakers often lay out the dilemmas in the form of found facts and found footage, suitably jazzed up. Thus, colorful ransom-note-stylestatistics alternate with animated magazine cutouts and ’50s newsreel coverage of Junior Miss pageants.

Yet the docu ultimately counterbalances its somewhat disingenuous approach to problem-solving with its celebration of the camp and its absolute commitment to the integrity of music. Though the formation of female musicians is not the institution’s primary goal (despite prevalent rocker alumnae), the music comes off as far more compelling than a glorified form of therapeutic basket-weaving. Pic’s bring-down-the-house finale at the girls’ big concert displays an amazing range of styles, few of them age-specific.

Girls Rock!

Production

A Shadow Distribution release of a Girls Rock production. Produced by Arne Johnson. Directed by Arne Johnson, Shane King.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), King; editors, King, Johnson; animation, Liz Canning; sound (Dolby), Lora Hirschberg. Reviewed at Village East Cinemas, New York, March 8, 2008. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Laura, Misty, Amelia, Palace.
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