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Girls Can't Swim / Me Without You
I was taking the elevator with two of Chicago's more illustrious film critics. We had all just seen the French film Girls Can't Swim, and one turned to the other and remarked how much more accurately teenagers are portrayed in European movies than American ones. The other nodded and quipped, "The European films show teenagers having sex. The Americans ones just show teens talking about it."
I would never argue that Hollywood presents American teenagers as they really are, but I have to take issue with my colleagues that foreign movies are necessarily more accurate. In fact, I've noticed recently that European teen movies tend to be just as predictable as their American counterparts, though in vastly different ways. This can be seen in two recent movies to turn up in Chicago: the French Girls Can't Swim and the British Me Without You.
Girls Can't Swim charts the relationship between two girls heading into high school and how it changes one summer. Gwen is a sexually precocious young woman who has a steady boyfriend but doesn't mind sleeping with some older boys who are drifting through town. Lise isn't as sexually adventurous, but she's farther along in her emotional development.
Me Without You charts the relationship between two girls heading out of high school and how it changes in their college and post-college years. Marina is a sexually precocious young woman who has a steady boyfriend but doesn't mind sleeping with some older boys who are drifting through her life. Holly isn't as sexually adventurous, but she's farther along in her emotional development.
And that same paragraph could
also be used to describe many other teen movies from across the pond: Sweden's
Show Me Love, Spain's Krampack, even the French movie Fat
Girl. I can understand why arty directors would find this plotline
appealing--a relationship between two friends of the same gender doesn't
have as many limitations as a conventional romantic relationship. And in
today's arthouse world, you can still have the titillating possibility
of that friendship morphing into something homosexual. And if that doesn't
pan out, the spurned friend can seek solace in the amorous arms of a much
older individual, which also scores points in the titillation department.
Even better if that older individual is related
I apologize if I sound overly
cynical, but predictability is not a virtue in my book, whether it's in
an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick or a foreign arthouse film. And yet
so many critics are willing to give the
Me Without You does
have one thing that makes it worth seeing, and that's the extraordinary
performance of American television star Michele Williams ("Dawson's Creek")
in the role of Holly. She is completely convincing as an older teenager
with crushes on both her best friend's brother and one of
Unfortunately, the other aspects of Me Without You are overly broad and uncompelling. Newcomer Anna Friel as Marina just doesn't have the same control that Williams has, and their disintegrating friendship isn't particularly enjoyable to watch, though I freely admit my lack of a Y chromosome may have something to do with that.
Girls Can't Swim is a subtler film, but it lacks the compelling star power that Williams's performance brings to Me Without You. Isild Le Besco and Karen Alyx are both fine as the two girls experimenting with their newfound sexual power, but there's no spark, no urgent reason to watch.
J. Robert Parks 8/14/2002