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Doc Corner: Meet the Girls of 'All This Panic'

“It’s just one of those things when you expect something to be amazing and perfect and it’s not.”

Those words are spoken by 16-year-old Lena in Jenny Gage’s gorgeous slice of life documentary, All This Panic, as she describes the feeling of liking a boy who didn’t like her back. Never mind that, though; aren’t they a perfect encapsulation of the teenage existence more generally? Lena is just one of a handful of teenage female subjects that Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton stumble upon in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; the experiences of whom make up this exquisite debut feature.

Lena, socially forward but with a struggling family life, is joined by sisters Ginger and Dusty, Gage and Betterton’s neighbours, the elder of which has little concept of where she wants her life to go and confesses to being “petrified of getting old”; Sage, a rare African American student at a prestigious Manhattan school whose outspoken attitude is coupled with an internal battle between her class status and her face; and Olivia, who confides to the camera about her sexuality before she ever would her parents.

Gage follows her subjects over several years, following them through the significant and the mundane, the latter of which is an oft-forgotten part of the majority of teenagers lives outside of the make believe of movies. In some ways, like the best moments of fictional narratives Boyhood or The Edge of Seventeen, it is in fact these mundane moments that strike the biggest chord, allowing these girls' very relatable qualities to shine through. We may not want to be stuck with them in a movie theatre, but as characters on screen in an actual movie, displaying their chirpy ordinariness that is early-on preoccupied with boys and parties and lies to their parents and make up, they become something fascinating. A genuine glimpse into the lives of the sort of demographic that are rarely offered such focus and attention.

At one point Sage, who appears separate from all of the other girls, notes that “People want to look at us but don’t want to hear what we have to say.” Like Lena earlier in the film, it is a phrase of remarkable maturity and therein lies a large part of what makes All This Panic so good. By letting her subjects have such remarkable access to tell their own stories, Gage offers these girls an outlet and their viewers a window in. It’s unfortunately less than common, but what this doc does is at times remarkable.

Filmed with a glorious look that belies its meagre scrappy origins, it often captures images that are surprisingly beautiful. From one girl’s night atop a New York apartment building or a snow-covered Coney Island, All This Panic is definably a New York movie, yet one that speaks to a very universal concept. By allowing such a long filming period (the passing of time told by the removal of braces or the changing of hair color), we gain a far clearer picture than we otherwise would. All This Panic may feel small, but for its subjects and for the audience during this brief 80 minutes it’s the entire world.

Release: In limited release from this weekend.

Oscar Chances: Doubtful. Oscar rarely goes for these type of documentaries anymore, and I have no doubt that bias against the demographhic will keep many from even watching it even though they obviously should.

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Reader Comments (1)

Oooh, this sounds fascinating.

March 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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