Girls Rock! follows the experiences of four girls who attend a one-week “rock ’n’ roll camp.” The documentary, aimed at teenage girls, was made by two men, and takes a bemused but respectful stance. It shows the determination of the girls to be loud and to do what they like to do, which is make music. If the filmmakers had stayed with the girls, and not wandered off to interview teachers and parents, or intercut animated segments that punctuate the bias the girls themselves so clearly express, Girls Rock! might not have a pedantic edge. It’s that edge, there to illustrate the generational connection between the girls’ insecurities and those of the women who are their mentors, that leaves the documentary in audience limbo.
The undisputed star of Girls Rock! is a Korean-American teenager, Laura, whose gregariousness the filmmakers obviously found absorbing and charming. Laura adds an ethnic dimension the other girls do not, and she is also undoubtedly the most well-adjusted of the four subjects. The others are Misty, just graduated from a group home where she recovered from a drug addiction; Palace, an eight-year-old dominatrix-in-the-making; and Amelia, a talented outcast. Their progress through the first day of classes, then choosing a band and writing a song, through to the last day when they perform, is so fractured by the interviews with adults that it’s difficult to get inside the girls’ heads. There are individual interviews with the girls, but the filmmakers obviously didn’t connect—there are very few moments of real introspection.
Girls Rock! is nevertheless a portrait of a progressive place for girls, one that allows them to raise their voices and be themselves. The camp, clearly devoted to group process, also helps the girls deal with criticism and all the other challenges of social interaction. While it is absorbing to see girls in this environment, the psychological and sociological perspective which the filmmakers bring teaches us about their subjects rather than allowing us to get to know them. In the end, we don’t feel the girls’ catharsis in performance because their struggles have been objectified through a prism of aphorisms, breakneck editing and doses of wide-eyed fascination. Girls, however, may see past these complaints: In Laura, Misty, Palace and Amelia, they might very well find reflections of themselves. That could make all the difference to girls and young women so accustomed to being silenced.