Reviews

Odd Girl Out

Cynthia Fuchs

Odd Girl Out exposes the ways that girls can be stupid and violent, even when they're not physically assaulting one another.


Odd Girl Out

Airtime: Monday 4 April 2005, 9pm ET
Cast: Alexa Vega, Leah Pipes, Lisa Vidal, Shari Dyon Perry, Elizabeth Rice
Network: Lifetime
Amazon
Girls, meanwhile, are acutely aware of the culture's double standard. They are not fooled into believing this is the so-called post-feminist age, the girl power victory lap. The rules are different for boys, and girls know it. Flagrant displays of aggression are punished with social rejection.
-- Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Harcourt 2002, 18)

"Guys are so stupid," asserts Vanessa (Alexa Vega). "And violent," adds her best friend Stacy (Leah Pipes). They've just heard that a couple of their classmates are fighting in the gym, and dismiss such overt aggression as childish. Of course, they rush off to see who's bloody and who's winning. And when they see that one participant is the object of both girls' crushes, dreamy Tony (Chad Biagini), they're more inclined to ask how it went than to judge the fight outright. Even if boys are stupid, they're still property worth claiming.

Lifetime's Odd Girl Out exposes the ways that girls can also be stupid and violent, even when they're not physically assaulting one another. The story is not new. Anyone who's experienced high school as a girl knows how such aggression manifests. But the repetition is the very reason this story is worth telling -- if only to get people talking. Kids are afraid, angry, and frustrated in high school and they find outlets in bullying others. Unfortunately, many of them learn to be adults in this way, and the behavior carries over. In this way, sadly, high school is preparation for life, not some phase you survive and move past.

This much is made clear in Odd Girl Out, where parents aren't any better at solving, or even acknowledging the girls' conflicts than their children. Premiering on 4 April, after a weekend full of teen troubles flicks (including Too Young to Be a Dad [2002] and Mom at Sixteen [2005]). Earnest and emphatic, Odd Girl Out follows Vanessa's changing status at school. Introduced as wealthy, popular Stacy's best friend, she's soon pushed outside the cool girls' group by a couple of misread encounters with Tony (he's Stacy's, even if they haven't actually dated) and the onerous machinations of Nikki (Elizabeth Rice), the number three in their group who wants to be number two. The extent of this meanness recalls that represented in Mean Girls, but Lifetime does not make rowdy social satires. It makes solemn melodramas.

Here, Nessa's predicament begins because she flirts -- seemingly innocently -- with Tony. Nikki sets on this betrayal with a vengeance, and organizes a veritable army of girls to ostracize and berate their former friend. They accuse her of being fat (a most terrible thing for girls/women, as any recent makeover show will attest) and having unfashionable hair ("Mayor of Planet Frizzball" is the perversely clever term they use). Stacy goes along with her clique as it sways against Nessa, calling her a "bitch" and a "slut," oversensitive and selfish. Eventually, Nessa feels she can't go back to school, as every moment is painful. The kids gang up in their own fear of being rejected; they laugh, stare, and walk in slow motion down shadowy hallways (it is a Lifetime melodrama, remember).

The fact that Nessa is Latina, has a straight-A average, and less money to spend on shopping sprees than her friends are tied up in the rejection, though the film does not press race-related tensions. (Nikki also has a Latina surname, Rodriquez.) Nessa's mother Barbara (Lisa Vidal) is single and working, alongside Stacy's mother Denise (Rhoda Griffis), equally clueless and self-defensive when events begin to spiral out of control, as when Stacy sets up Nessa to look like she's cheated in class.

The film underlines the specificity and ferocity of the mass rejection, as the girls mount their assault in public areas: the cafeteria, where they declare the cool girls' table off limits for Nessa; and the internet, where they post mocking websites and send frankly horrible email messages. Though Nessa imagines she can handle it herself (if she confronts Stacy or even stands up to Nikki, the tormenting only escalates), she eventually tells her mother what's happening. And even then, Barbara is at a loss as to what to do. (In more than one scene, you're inclined to tell her to hug her child rather than arguing with her or stomping off in a tiff because Nessa is uncommonly rude, but then you realize, mom is also confused, still not over being bullied when she was a girl.)

The movie means very well, of course. It even includes a supportive new friend for Nessa, bold Emily (excellent Shari Dyon Perry), who announces early on that the popular girls "don't have anything I want." She's a soccer player and a sharp kid, and while the film doesn't grant her any sort of life outside of new friend for Nessa (no parents, no domestic life), Emily's blackness makes her stand out in this apparently mostly white student body. "Truth," assures Emily, soon serving as Nessa's bodyguard at school, "You know you're strong and you're pretty and you're smart, and they hate you for it."

Though the film is reductive in its finale -- standing up to the bullies is the most obvious and immediate solution; the music rises and the camera pushes in close to her face as Vanessa finally finds the way to do this. The "hate" issue remains unresolved. But the questions Odd Girl Out raises are crucial. Girls' aggressions, often concealed and contained so their furiously directed releases are almost unbearable when aimed at you. Across generations and classes, girls need to find a way to talk with one another.

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