Harper Perennial, 1999, 227 pages, C$20.00 tpb, ISBN 0-06-095310-1
The popular stereotype of an accomplished movie critic usually revolves around a monocle-wearing, pipe-smoking intellectual with an European accent who goes bonkers for three-hour-long subtitled Iranian films about a broken cup of tea. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got drooling brain-damaged teens who thought BATTLEFIELD EARTH was “a lot of fun”. Surely there must be a middle ground, a place where intelligent, unpretentious movie lovers can come together.
Girls on Film is a book for those people who aren’t afraid to like both independent films and Hollywood blockbusters, people who love both Woody Allen and John Woo, people who see film as a media with the duty to inform, move and above all entertain. The “Girls” of the title are ex-college friends, at the time of publication editors/reviewers of a popular film website. The book isn’t a compendium of web-published material (“You won’t find any of this on the Web site!” claims the back cover) but a self-contained, strongly-structured film guide that will make you rush out to the nearest video store.
The hook of the book (“Gee whiz! Young women can talk about movies too!”) is actually a misdirection: Even if, yes, the authors unabashedly present themselves as, well, girls writing about movies, the potential public of the guide is much larger than the 18-34 female demographics. They’re so knowledgeable and -more importantly- enthusiastic about their subject that their passion becomes universal. It helps, of course, that they focus on almost all areas of cinema, not simply what you’d expect from “flick chicks”. (Their discussion about how to be a film snob at parties is a pure hoot.)
The structure of the book is simplicity itself: Eight sections about different types of movies, each section being composed of an introduction, four essays about the genre (by each of the girls) and a must-see list of 25 typical movies, accompanied by various side-bars. So we get sections such as Dramas, Comedies, Indies, Romance, Horror, Tearjerkers, Coming-of-Age and Blockbuster movies chapters. The eight top-25 listings alone will make you want to carry this book to the video store with you: There’s enough intriguing material there for a few weekend’s worth of classic rentals. There is -alas!- no index, so if you want to track down why HEATHERS affected Andrea’s early love life, you’ll have to re-read part of the book. Or not, given the strong organization of the sections.
A book of this type depends a lot on the personalities of the people writing it. Fortunately, the “girls”, as a group, more than adequately create a distinct atmosphere about their preferences; witty, unpretentious yet with a solid vigor that doesn’t trivialize their efforts whatever the subject discussed. It’s a shame that the different authors themselves aren’t more distinctive, but that’s not as much of a flaw as you’d expect—it’s a lot like listening to a good band; you don’t complain that the bassist should be more distinctive… In any case, all of them sound like your best down-to-earth friends. You’d love to go see a movie -any movie- with these four. They’re not always “right” (duh!), but they argue so well… Laugh-aloud stuff at times. The cartoon illustrations are great.
Easy to read and even easier to love, Girls on Film is one movie reviewing book you’ll pick up again from time to time to get recommendations, or simply for the fun of reading a few page again. Accurately targeted at a large segment of the population and not simply “at the girls”, this is a book worth tracking down in used bookstores.
[November 2001: Regrettably, a late-2001 web check reveals that the original girlson.com site has been bought and closed by a bigger company. The girls have split up, one of them going all the way west to become a media journalist. The remaining ones have created another site -www.critichick.com- to re-create the girlson.com feel, but said site hadn’t been updated in six months… A shame, really.]