Pretty much since its inception, Lifetime has suffered from an unfair stigmatization that has precluded many moviegoers from fairly appraising their productions. For many, to talk about Lifetime movies is to talk about “chick flicks,” “tear-jerkers,” or “man-hating” films. At best, Lifetime movies are categorized by moviegoers as “social problem” films, an accurate though still stigmatized label. For me personally, as someone who has watched innumerable Lifetime movies from the last several decades, the greatest Lifetime movies offer more than over-the-top emotionality and biased feminist portraits. Lifetime movies frequently offer complex ethical ruminations on issues affecting contemporary society, and these ethical ruminations just as frequently feature strong performances from seasoned film and television actors as well as breakthrough performances from younger actors still relatively new to film and television work.
Girl Fight premiered on Lifetime in October of last year, and it is unquestionably the best Lifetime movie from 2011 and one of the standout productions in the network’s entire history. The film was inspired by the real-life ordeal of a young girl who was beaten in 2008, the video footage of the assault subsequently becoming a Youtube sensation. Jodelle Ferland stars as Haley, a 16-year-old girl who finds herself lucky enough to be embraced by the popular crowd at her high school. Exceptionally intelligent, Haley has been placed in more advanced courses with older students. While the seniors in her classes initially judge her as the weird nerdy girl, the lead “mean girl,” Alexa Simons (Tess Atkins), befriends her and brings her into her group of friends, consisting of entitled girls with little else on their minds other than extending their high school popularity to cyber celebrity status.
While Haley is pleased about her new friendship with Alexa, she is forced to contend with the rest of the members of the hostile group, primarily the volatile bully Kristin (Keely Purvis). When Kristin learns that Haley made negative comments about her on a social networking site (re: Facebook), she and the rest of the girls conspire to teach Haley a lesson. Alexa is the lone holdout, though when she learns there are harsh words about her, as well, she goes along with the scheme.
What follows is truly exceptional filmmaking. The entire sequence of Haley’s assault is fantastic, shot and acted with, from a spectatorial perspective, the most wonderfully infuriating kind of authenticity, and the subsequent portions involving her and her family’s trying efforts to deal with and move past the harrowing experience boast a visceral affectivity rivaling the very best dramaturgical efforts ever offered by Lifetime. Credit to the film and its makers, though, Girl Fight is not a film whose power resides in only a couple of scenes; from start to finish, the characterizations are impressive, from the main cast of girls and extending to the parents and family members affected by the fallout, and the performances from everyone in the cast are several levels above standard Lifetime fare (which says a lot considering how great many of the underrated performances in recent Lifetime movies have been). Jodelle Ferland shines the brightest; faced with the toughest acting challenge in the cast, she brings a wholly authentic emotionality to the roll, equally believable as the naïve bookworm, the starry-eyed inductee in the popular crowd, the traumatized victim, and finally as the wise and forgiving young woman with an inspiring and unimpeachable morality. In addition to Ferland’s strong performance, real-life couple Anne Heche and James Tupper offer great support as her parents, struggling to raise a teenage daughter amidst the chaotic and rapidly-evolving technological age.
Nothing enrages me as much as when wonderful films are written off before they are ever even given a chance, and to ignore a film as powerful and provocative as Girl Fight is to do oneself a tremendous disservice as a film fan. In the last decade, the quality level of the films produced by Lifetime has been growing exponentially, and Girl Fight marks perhaps the greatest leap forward yet.
Definitely not a film to be missed.