Movie marketers aren’t doing themselves any favors by slapping the word “sisterhood” on the title of a film about a tribe of teenage girls. This white-washed revisionist version of young female friendship connotes all the unconditional support, commitment, and dull virtue of middle-aged married people and has morphed into a pop culture chestnut that’s become increasingly hard to swallow without wincing. As those of us who have come under the influence of brain-altering intoxication of best girlfriendship well know – anyone in the throes of adolescent ardor cannot be held to the standards of adult civilized behavior. For most young women, once that first coven of close friends takes shape, a cloud of crazy envelops them and suddenly they find themselves bouncing between the extreme highs and lows of a Sid-and-Nancy tortured love affair. Peter Jackson perfectly captured this experience in “Heavenly Creatures.” But it’s been a long time since mainstream media produced anything to counterbalance the iCarly version of devoted besties making webisodes and defending those less attractive and popular than them.
But don’t write off all things sisterly just yet. This week brought promising news of a more authentic version of sisterhood with the announcement that Kara Hayward, the soulful wild thing at the heart of Wes Anderson’s elegiac ode to young love, “Moonrise Kingdom,” has signed on to star in “Sisterhood of the Night.” This adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s eponymous short story centers around a sensitive suburban teen (Hayward) who stumbles upon a secret society of wild young girls and sets off a modern-day witch hunt.
This is the latest sign that the tyranny of well-meaning, quip-spouting, virtuous, and virtually unrecognizable Disney Channel adolescence may be ending and a resistance movement is gaining momentum, thanks to the bold and inventive work of auteurs like Anderson, Richard Ayoade, and Andrea Arnold. Each of these filmmakers, in his or her own unique way, has set out to capture the visceral stomach-in-mouth terror and exhilaration of what it feels like to be whipped around by the hurricane of young love –– platonic and otherwise.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is the rare American-made film about the emotional life of kids that doesn’t play as a propaganda reel promoting the notion that childhood is a magical land populated by small beings who live to conform and comply to the codes and behavioral expectations of the adult-i-verse. Anderson operates by his own rules as do the two preteens in “Moonrise Kingdom,” who set off into the woods to flee the canned fun of summer camp to a world of their own making, ruled by their emotional riptides. Ayoade’s “Submarine,” based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, takes up where “Moonrise” left off, with a pair of feisty British teenagers taking refuge from the upheaval of their parents’ failing marriages in the trippy altered state their adventurous relationship provides. The cycle culminates with Arnold’s elemental take on “Wuthering Heights,” which offers an immersive experience in the all-consuming torment Cathy and Heathcliff inflicted on each other for the rest of their lives due to their highly combustible chemistry.
American audiences, in particular, struggle to acknowledge the savage nature of childhood itself. There is something comforting in the illusion that in today’s complex world, kids confront no problem that can’t be resolved with a glib one-liner or earnest apology before cutting to a pop song interlude and commercial break. So we welcome the recognizable gravitas and grit of characters in these films. We’re particularly encouraged and excited about Hayward, a fourteen-year-old wise child, literally (she’s a member of Mensa), whose captivating screen presence quietly suggests the weight and lightness unique to that age. Now that’s a sisterhood even we can embrace.
Where do you stand on the state of of young love and friendship in film and TV? What film best captures the emotional emergency that is a first crush? We’ll start the list with “A Little Romance” and “Small Change.“