As good as Don Argott’s “Rock School” was, it wasn’t so much about the kids learning rock and roll and their sheer obsession for the music but about the idiocy and egocentric prickish Paul Green and his own obsession with deifying himself in the eyes of the young and naive lacking role models. Thus the whole message of kids learning about rock and appreciating music was sadly lost in the process. While one of my favorites of 2005, it was a missed opportunity.
Arne Johnson and Shane King’s “Girls Rock!” almost get it right. Almost. “Girls Rock!” is a good spotlight on the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, an unkempt and unorthodox program run by women for young girls who want to flourish in their love for guitars, and heavy metal. The directors wisely focus on a collection of very interesting women, many of whom are from completely different backgrounds, but all have the general connection of dysfunction and mental problems.
There’s Palace, the self-centered camp attendant and youngest of her group, who is already a narcissistic diva barely reaching ten. There’s the scene stealer Laura, an adopted child from Korea who is happy with her body image in a world discouraging it and enjoys being the center of attention, and Misty, a troubled orphan who resides in a group home and seeks some sense of stability in this camp and finds it.
What the directing duo explores is this collective ability of these different women to create music in the confines of this limited space and show how they can sometimes fall apart at the seams due to typically creative conflicts and arguments about band names. “Girls Rock!” never seeks to be anything more than a simplistic look at young women not just learning how to create music, but how to take hold of their talents and use it to their advantage, offering a sense of community to basically disconnected young girls. Its gladly lacking of exploitation and manipulation and just observes the toddlers and teens mixing it together and seeking to ace their unifying sound when they each have different ideas of what their sounds should be.
The rehearsals we engage in are in lieu of an upcoming performance in front of hundreds of people, and though they’re not all particularly the best bands around, the intent is to teach them about collaboration and learning their potential for the music. “Girls Rock!” suffers though because it can never seem to decide what it’s trying to say to the audience. Is its intent to lambaste pop culture’s image of women? Is it to appeal to children? Is it only for the girls? Or is it about the power music can have on children? The hazy moral is further emphasized as the counselors insist “Be the opposite of women like Britney Spears!” while other times they explain “You can be like Britney if that’s your choice, that’s okay too.”
One of the primary caveats though tends to be the “Girls are better than boys, girls are great, men are bad” caterwauling that seeps in every so often with enough irritation to warrant this a terribly exclusive documentary that pretty much seeks to rule out any male participation. On the flip side, the women here constantly gripe about the pro-male propaganda in our society, yet are never afraid to tell these young women often repetitive opinions about society. Equally, the directors frequently play outdated films about the woman of the fifties almost injecting this anti-male mindset and chastising the male rockers they feature in a quick montage.
Are women given the shorter end of the stick in society? Sure, but blame the industry, don’t blame the men, which is what “Girls Rock!” seems to do at times. And yet we’re never told of the male musicians who likely influenced these women along with the female rockers. Are we to believe none of these women were influenced by male rockers? There’s a clever straying from this at every turn. Paired with the unusual placement of a self-defense class in the middle of the camp, I really never understood if these women were helping budding musicians or training future feminazis.
While the effort is admirable and the Rock and Roll Camp is a worthy cause, “Girls Rock!” lacks a real pay off and is surprisingly harmless and average with a heavy emphasis on feminist clichés that leave it very unfocused and unsure about what it’s trying to say to us, if it’s saying anything at all.