06 July 2012

Reform School Girl (1994)

United States - 1994
Director - Jonathan Kaplan

Before watching, I read the synopsis of this film that were provided  at a number of websites, but was still surprised to discover that it is actually a remake of the 1957 film of the same name. Of course I should in the common, less stigmatizing parlance of the day more properly call it a "re-boot." None of the descriptions were entirely accurate to the film at hand, but neither is it really a re-make.

The early scenes right up to Donna's Incarceration are a close recreation of the original film including the opener featuring the lecherous uncle (watching the original film on television no less!) who assaults Donna (Aimee Graham) and gets beaten up by her "friends," including a sleazy Matt LeBlanc just short of his Friends career who commits the requisite vehicular homicide that lands Donna in reform school.

In 1957, Donna found herself increasingly fighting for survival against her fellow students, with the teachers and friendly, pipe-smoking school psychiatrist doing their benificent best to save the girls from themselves and unattached directionless independence. In the end of course, the vulnerable Donna, one of the lucky ones to be sure, passes from the compassionate embrace of the penal institution safely into the hands of her lifelong male guardian and everyone lives happily ever after.

In the subsequent 35 years since that film however, the 50's era benevolence of established institutions like medicine and domesticity  has vanished. Instead we have a conflict that is as much the opposite as it is a rejection of the central argument. Here it is the school itself, complete with a lecherous psychiatrist (oh how times have changed!) from which Donna must be saved. And instead of finding refuge in the shadow of a man, Donna takes her fate in her own hands, effectively protecting herself, and eventually her little sister as well. True, much has been made of the lesbian relationship that takes place between Donna and a fellow inmate, but while this is technically the opposite of the original in which she fears and fights with her peers, it is very nearly forgotten by the end of the film. I was tempted to suggest that the whole thing was exploited primarily for the hetero-male-fantasy, which is undoubtedly there, but coupled with a number of other telling choices,  I'm willing to give it some credit for rocking the boat.

I went into this expecting something much grimier and much lower quality than I got. While it wasn't exactly the apogee of dramatic entertainment, neither was it disappointing. What it lacks in stylistic flair (a great deal) it makes up for in refreshing sense of independence, both ideologically and from the very generic narrative cycle that bore it.

If you're curious to see it yourself and compare it to the original, this one is currently streaming on NutFlex and there's a link to the other included with my review.

No comments: