Girlfriends at the Movies – An Overview of BFI’s Film Season

In the spirit of International Women’s Day (8th March) and it being the month to celebrate women, what better time to shine the spotlight on the BFI’s latest season, Girlfriends.

Friendships, specifically, women’s friendships and how they are portrayed on screen, have been explored, dissected, examined, repeated across the film world. The latest season, which stated in February, continues you into March with classic, cult and rarely screened films, as well as live podcasts, talks and showcasing of short films by female filmmakers.

The season really kicked of with a special Galentine’s Day screening of the 90s cult hit ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ followed by a Q & A with writer Robin Schiff. Best friends Romy and Michele have been living in LA since graduating from their Tucson high school. Having unknowingly been social outcasts in their youth, both Romy and Michele want to go back and impress their old classmates and bullies. From the moment they decide to claim they invented post-its, things take a turn for the worse then for the better.

With its eye-catching style and unique comedic timing, cult classic was born. The film is drenched with 90s culture from costume designer, Mona May ‘s choice of colours and design and even the cast featuring Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garofalo and Alan Cumming is something that only nostalgic dreams are made of. The comedy and chemistry is pure metallic gold that Robin Schiff created basing the lead characters on two valley girls she over heard one day. The film is based loosely on Schiff’s earlier work, Ladies Room, which also stared Lisa Kudrow before her ‘Friends’ days. The film’s success and much loved fandom, came as a surprise to everyone involved who believed the film wouldn’t make a dent at the box office. Oh how wrong they were. After Schiff’s Q & A which ended on a few secrets about the plot of the upcoming musical, the night closed with Prom themed party. Sadly no gigantic carrot and banana magnet shaped balloons, but thankfully no blown up pictures of Christie Masters either.

Throughout February (and March), with half the films being screened directed by Sally Potter’s first feature film, ‘The Gold Diggers’ was among them. ‘The Gold Diggers is an experimental black and white haze where two women (Julie Christie and Colette Laffont) question what is happening around them and question the authority of men. With no linear story but rather jarring sequences that range from a lavish period costumed party to a small wooden hut in the wilderness. An unusual film and quite unlike Potter’s more recent work, it seems to challenge rather than try to capture the imagination.

From experimental to 1930s gem, ‘Dance Girl Dance’ starring Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball as two friends in a dance troupe struggling to find work. Ball is Bubbles, a dancer with little talent for the art but able to charm and seduce whatever she wants. O’Hara is good girl Judy, a talented dancer but too shy for her own good. When Bubbles rises to fame in a burlesque show, she tricks Judy into joining the show as her stooge. But when Judy captures the eye of a wealthy recently divorced James, Bubbles jealously knows no bounds. It’s unfortunate that this film, although about two friends, shows them at odds with one another and their ‘friendship’ becomes even more strained than it already was. But with two leads, charismatic and charming in their own way, the comedy, sorrow and romance make for a film well worth seeing.

Throughout the season there was 90’s/early 2000s vibe that continued with rare screenings of Sarah Goldbacher’s ‘Me Without You’ starring Anna Friel and Michelle Williams as polar opposite best friends. Mixed in with classics such as ‘Beaches’ and ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ were more recent releases such as Tel Aviv set story, ‘In Between’ about three flat mates who navigate living in modern times as well as having to balance their traditions, directed by Maysaloun Hamoud.

Two of the rarer screenings shown during the season were ‘Now and Then’ and ‘Poison Ivy’. Having been called ‘the female version’ of ‘Stand By Me’, would make this 90’s nostalgia filled flashback seem lesser than the revered original but directed by Lesil Linka Glatter and written by I. Marlene King, the story about four best friends over one Summer can’t be compared. Starring who’s who of the nineties, both the adult and teenage cast fall into their roles so perfectly. For Chrissy, Samantha, Roberta and Teenie, the Summer of 1970 changed everything. As adults they reminisce about the time and hope for the future as they are brought together through a pact they made years previously. On the cusp of independence (and puberty) they save up for a tree house, which becomes a symbol of their freedom and that they are growing up.

Fondly described as a film from the Drewploitation period by programmers Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe who introduced Katt Shea’s ‘Poison Ivy’, meaning that the film was made during the time in Drew Barrymore’s career where she was trying to shed her ‘little girl’ act. If it not for the well-versed intro, this thriller borderline middle-aged man fantasy may have been received differently. When outcast teen Sylie meets and befriends the mysterious new girl, Sylvie’s parents accept this stranger into their home. But it’s not long before Ivy’s plans start to unfold with deadly consequences. The film is about friendship and how twisted it can be; one can’t seem to be without the other, even if one friend is seducing the other’s father. Even though the film is a part of Barrymore’s phase, the film stands up on its own as a bizarre story with equally odd characters.

In keeping with a celebration of women in film, each film screened over the season was accompanied with a short film, which shares similar themes as the feature. A stand out was ‘Cosmic Bowling’ written by Emily Berge about a group of friends in search of one of their crushes as bowling has been cancelled. The film reminisces about being a teenager and having that first crush, causing you to do crazy things.

The season at BFI has been perfectly structured and waved together, offering film classics and modern favourites that deserve a second look. Hopefully this won’t bet the last time we get the celebrate so many great directors and writers.