I've said it before (and mentioned the subject of this post in passing, too) - I have a serious soft corner for school stories, especially boarding school stories. I'm also a bit of a 90s teen movie junkie, and will admit to the blasphemy of not giving a shit about Molly Ringwald . Which is why a pre-Christmas rewatch of one of my favourite horribly underrated early-00s loves is prompting me to write this, in the hope that someone, anyone, will actually read the text of this post, and leave the movie a tiny bit less unknown- even if it is just by one person.
For starters, there's the name: this movie goes by not one, not two, but three of them. In descending order of how much I like them, they are- The Hairy Bird (the best, and true, one, based on a snort-inducingly crass joke between the characters), Strike! (not as funny, but still ok) and All I Wanna Do (sounds like it should star a Disney Channel starlet- ie, like a generic godawful teen flick). The plot is simple: it's 1961 and teenage Odette Sinclair's parents banish her to boarding school to get her away from an unsuitable boyfriend. The school in question, Miss Godard's, is in New England and all-girls, aka Hell as per Odie. But her mostly WASPy classmates- played by Monica Keena, Heather Matarazzo, and Kirsten Dunst, among others- turn out to be, to use an archaic Wodehouseism, good eggs who are nicer than Odie assumes at first sight- and much less stuffy too.
So far, there are more shades of St Clare's* than St Trinian's to the story- until the school's headmistress, Miss McVane (played by Lynn Redgrave) is forced by financial necessity to agree to a merger with a nearby boys' school. The news of this is greeted with outrage by a large chunk of the student body who feel like it's just another attempt at male domination and violation of their space +preparation for their subjugation in later life, while others like the idea of having boys at the school. In the middle of all this, ('all this' including a pervy male teacher and a snotty prefect played well enough for me to want to slap her face by Rachael Leigh Cook) is the attempted loss of Odie's virginity and the stories of the other girls, along with a planned rebellion against the merger. But the real magic lies in the chemistry between the girls, and the dialogue (sample: "Real life is boy-girl-boy-girl!" "No, Tinka, real life is boy on top of girl!").
It's really, really rare these days to find movies that discuss gender-related issues even obliquely, and even rarer for such movies to be targeted at teens. This one has had criminal injustices inflicted on it- first that horrible name, then a very limited release which means that, ten years after it was originally made, hardly anyone knows about it. It's probably too obscure to even have cult status, which can sometimes be pretentious and stupid but is at least one way of getting a good movie known.
Re: the acting, Gaby Hoffman (who plays Odie) does a nice enough job, but she's not enough to carry an entire movie. The real sparklers of the cast are her co-stars, particularly a then 15-year-old Kirsten Dunst, and Heather Matarazzo. Also, anyone keeping a sharp eye out will probably spot Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser aka Connor from Angel, and Hayden Christensen in a bit part. And if you like the idea of a movie that feels a bit like Dead Poet's Society+St Trinian's with a 60s setting, do watch.
Not a sight expected in your regular chick flick
*Enid Blyton fans should remember this