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Girls Gone Bad: 20 Lethal Girl Gang Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 13, 2013 at 1:21PM

This week, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” features a group of young people, mostly female, who break into the homes of the rich and famous to steal their stuff, mostly for kicks. You can read our full review here, and while of course it’s a movie about celebrity obsession and the ennui of youthful privilege, it can also, in its central female characters and group dynamic, be read as an evolution of a subgenre with a decades-long spotty history: the bad girl gang movie.
18
"Bridesmaids."
"Bridesmaids."

Bridesmaids” (2011)
Oh, what a relief it was that this film was not in fact "The Hangover"-with-girls high concept the marketing team had us believe before it came out. Nobody really wanted that, did they? Thankfully screenwriter/star Kristen Wiig had plenty more on her mind with this very funny, very thoughtful look at female relationships. Even though the titular wedding party sees their wild Vegas bachelorette excursion cut short -- happening in a plane sequence that’s almost experimental for its epic run time and desire to subvert expectations -- they’re still a gang of ladies well worth watching as they awkwardly meet each other, shit themselves and even belt out ballads by the film’s end. Melissa McCarthy has the funny, showy role, for which she received a deserved Oscar nomination, but it’s really Wiig who stands out in a sympathetic yet complex part in which we root for her character to figure it all out even as we watch her do horrible, selfish and stupid things. It’s not that dissimilar from when “Sex and the City” went dark and showed Carrie doing really bad things (i.e. cheating with Big when he was married), and it’s just as effective and honest a portrait, perhaps even deeper, as Wiig just can’t seem to get her life in order while her best friend is worryingly moving on to bigger and better things. It's as funny and moving as anything from the Apatow brand of dude-centric chuckles, and all the more memorable to covering territory that, to this point anyway, hadn't been so thoroughly mined. [B+]

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965)
“I haven’t seen four women like this together outside of a Russ Meyer film,” Jerry opined in the episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine tries to rat out the owner of their favorite coffee shop for only hiring big-breasted women. Anyone who’s seen this most famous of Meyer’s campy sexploitation romps, in which three women shaped like real-life versions of Jessica Rabbit go on a kill crazy rampage of sorts, knows that reference is not an exaggeration. They’re strippers by day, earning cash from a bunch of ogling buffoons and then take off on a desert road trip, each in their own badass muscle car, taking another scantily clad young woman hostage after inexplicably killing her boyfriend. It’s all very silly, but ultimately fun in a goofy, naive sorta way, never even coming close to feeling as awful as it should, given the movie’s content. So yeah, Meyer, a former Playboy centerfold photographer, was just a tad pervy, clearly obsessed with breasts, but ‘Faster Pussycat’ mostly works because the women, while objectified and framed in a comical, comic book style, are always in charge, able to kick ass and defend themselves while plotting a way to rob an old sexist pig in a wheelchair. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to violence! [B]

Heathers

Heathers” (1988)
Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw! While bad girl gangs have been a longtime pop cultural fascination, the Heathers Chandler, McNamara, and Duke of “Heathers” were the ones who cemented the myth of the cold, beautiful, and remorseless high school clique in the post-modern cinematic imagination, begetting “Mean Girls,” “Clueless,” “The Craft,” “Sugar and Spice,” and maybe even laying ground for “Spring Breakers.” But it wasn't just the iconography, it's the language too that makes the film so timeless. The bitingly funny black comedy written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehman is infinitely quotable, original and devastatingly funny -- setting off a host of imitators that have never quite reached these heights. In this cynical rendering of high school life, Waters and Lehman allow that the Heathers are bitchy, scheming and materialistic, but they're also the smartest people in the room, using their powers for their own Machiavellian manipulations. Winona Ryder's Veronica is the perfect foil to the Heathers, and as both the voice of reason and chaos, when she and her nihilistic and violent boyfriend J.D. (an unhinged Christian Slater) get involved in the accidental death of Head Bitch Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), setting off a suicide trend among the high schoolers who worship and fear the Heathers. And of course, "Heathers" started the career of Ultimate Bad Girl (the gold standard, really) Shannen Doherty, whose initially self-doubting Heather Duke steps up to reign supreme. "Heathers" goes where other bad girls only dream to. [A]

Switchblade Sisters

Switchblade Sisters” (1975)
You either buy into this movie and its goofy dystopian, gang-ridden universe early on, as Medusa’s bellowing the (pretty awesome) “Black Hearted Woman,” or you’ll just think it’s dumb and kinda gross. There is no wrong response to Jack Hill’s exploitation pic, about a gang of high school girls first known as the Dagger Debs, the female offshoot of the Silver Daggers, who essentially run the high school but eventually take out their male counterparts and form a new crew called the Jezebels. Quentin Tarantino loved the film so much he put it out on DVD through his long-defunct Rolling Thunder Pictures label, and you can watch him nerd out embarrassingly on the commentary and bonus features where he recites the film’s quite funny dialogue in front of a horrible green screen. “Switchblade Sisters” is a great entry point into '70s-era exploitation pictures -- Hill was basically the Spielberg of these kind of movies -- featuring all manner of activities that are anything but politically correct. There’s off putting, mean-spirited humor towards a heavier woman in the gang (known as Donut, ahem) and at times nasty violence, yet for the most part it’s actually funny and enjoyable. That is, if you get on its particular wavelength. [B]

Jawbreaker

"Jawbreaker" (1999)
A naff, tonally inconsistent knock-off of the peerless “Heathers,” “Jawbreaker” is a great film to watch for comparison if you want to see how much skill it takes to make something as seemingly effortless as the Michael Lehman classic or the other fine examinations of the high-school clique ethos like “Clueless” and “Mean Girls.” Where all of those latter films created worlds that were wholly internally consistent (be they ever so exaggerated or fucked-up), “Jawbreaker” veers manically from really quite disturbing death scene to would-be romance to makeover comedy without ever stopping to create any kind of plot logic. Marred further by poor characterization and some terrible acting (Rose McGowan is really quite bad, and Rebecca Gayheart is a cypher, so it’s left to Julie Benz and Judy Greer to up the standard, and there’s only so much they can do), the film is a frustrating disappointment for those of us who found the premise intriguing. When a “joke” kidnapping goes awry and they accidentally kill all-around dream girl and best friend Liz Purr, the remaining members of Reagan High’s ruling senior clique led by Courtney (McGowan, so much bitchface and self-conscious snarling) decide to cover it up, to which end they have to recruit mousy wallflower witness Fern (Greer) into their coven to ensure her silence. But while the plot turns cartwheels to show how, for example, Courtney seduces an unwitting guy (actually played by Marilyn Manson, bizarrely) into having sex on Liz’s bed, quite how they fool the detectives (including Pam Grier) who examine the girl’s body into believing she was raped is not gone into -- and we’d rather not speculate, though perhaps we’re supposed to? For all its black heart and high body count, there is a charm and moral purpose to “Heathers” that “Jawbreaker” absolutely lacks; instead of the delicious sweetness of just desserts, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. And quite aside from its merits as a film, “Jawbreaker” contributes nothing to the canon of high-school girl gangs that isn’t done much more insightfully elsewhere. [F]

This article is related to: The Bling Ring, Features, Feature


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