An apprentice hairdresser on the cusp of 16 is determined to lose her virginity in “Other Girls,” a modest yet convincingly handled first film that incorporates justified adolescent angst while steering clear of most of the pitfalls that handicap many contemporary French youth dramas. As far in sensibility as one can get from gut-busting, cherry-popping comedies like “American Pie,” pic paints a thoughtful, often amusing portrait of a multicultural batch of trainee hairdressers, their varying levels of sexual experience and one determined young lady’s novel solution on how to handle coming of age. A nice item for fests, pic bodes well for scripter-helmer Caroline Vignal’s nascent career.
Solange (Julie Leclercq), who has a natural knack for wielding comb and scissors, has always wanted to cut and style hair. The only child of low-income parents in a small town near Toulouse, Solange isn’t quite sure what to make of her vivacious mom (Caroline Baehr), who halfheartedly baby-sits for others, and her dad (Jean-Francois Gallotte), who loves his work raising ostriches.
Solange’s closest friend at beauty school is an insolent young black woman, Gary (a plucky perf from Benoite Sapim), who lives in a hotel because her family wanted to ship her back to Africa for an arranged marriage. Gary supports Solange in her awkward quest to figure out what sex is all about, and knows her own precocious temperament is miles beyond that of her mild-mannered friend.
There’s a guy at her vocational high school whom Solange likes, but she wants to know what she’s doing before she does it with him. A plan to get laid at a disco falls apart when the stranger she picks up realizes she’s a virgin — and underage, to boot. And unbeknownst to Solange, the whole class is listening when she phones a radio advice show to ask if people can tell just by looking whether someone has ever had sex.
Helmer gets convincing perfs out of her young cast, with Leclercq embodying the daring, insecurity and taste for experimentation of this age group. Bernard Menez does a nice turn as the beauty school instructor who cares about his students and endeavors to impart useful information along with practical technique. Pic has a few minor continuity errors, but sympathy for the characters carries the day.