Girls Town

Two movies about women opening concurrently in one macho summer. It's less a miracle than a mixed blessing, Girls Town is the keeper. It's a power house. Shot in 12 days in Hackensack, N.J., this low-budget debut by Jim McKay is a remarkable script collaboration between McKay and the three actresses who play high school seniors shocked into evaluating their lives when a friend commits suicide. They are Anna Grace as Emma, Bruklin Harris as Angela and Lili Taylor as Patti. All are first-rate, with Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol) piercing the heart as a single mom hitting the wall of limited options. Watching this trio fight back with humor, smarts, fists if necessary, and shouts of "fuck you" is pure exhilaration. There's no sign of the usual Hollywood bullshit.

Girls Town rightfully caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival, but it was the treacly Spitfire Grill that won the Audience award. Go figure. Percy, well played by Alison Elliott, is an ex-con who finds work helping crusty Hannah Ferguson (Ellen Burstyn) run the Spitfire Grill in the small burg of Gilead, Maine. The townsfolk are ice at first, but plucky Percy thaws them out. Shelby (Marcia Gay Harden), the wife of Hannah's suspicious nephew (Will Patton), helpfully introduces Percy to the solace of church. A company run by Catholic priests put up the $6 million to make the film. Some call it sinister recruiting. I don't know. But Lee David Zlotoff, in his feature-film writing and directing debut, sells human values like a preacher who thinks he can win a soul for every tear he jerks. The only thing worth a cry about The Spitfire Grill is the whopping $10 million that Castle Rock overpaid to release it while so many worthy and honest indie films go begging.

From The Archives Issue 742: September 5, 1996