Film Review: Girl Rising

The approach may have a distracting, overly fancy, diluting quality to it, but attention must nevertheless be paid to this film’s basic theme.

It can be a very scary world, especially for young females who in many countries suffer not only second-class (and much lower) status, but also a complete lack of education (denied to some 66 million of them), slavery, severe violence, sexual abuse and being sold into marriage. Girl Rising focuses on nine different girls who are doing their best to overcome mountainous obstacles, accompanied by dutiful voiceovers by concerned stars like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek and Kerry Washington.

Among the girls, all desperate for schooling, are Sokha, a Cambodian orphan who has miraculously transformed herself into a gifted dancer; Ruksana, from India, who is blessed with a caring, sacrificing father (a true rarity); Nepalese Suma, who uses her music to help free others from the slavery she once endured; and Peruvian Senna, named after “Xena: Warrior Princess,” who is inspired by the poet Cesar Vallejo to honor the memory of her own supportive father who made her go to school.

It’s an undeniably vital and worthy subject, but too often the filmmakers get in their own way. While the noted writers involved with this project may lend literary cachet, the basic need in film to show and not tell is unwisely superseded by all those words, words, words, as with the redundant voiceover (“She decided to return to school the next day”) over the eminently clear footage of a girl carrying her composition book through her village. All of this merely dilutes the power of the important narrative.

Other fillips, like constantly interrupting the girls’ stories with fey compositions of young, multi-racial girls in a sylvan meadow, holding up signs bearing terrible statistics about internationally impoverished female lives, only add to the viewer’s impatience. A certain after-school-special preachiness sets in that is off-putting and counterproductive.

However, there’s no gainsaying the force—and often heartbreaking beauty and joy—of these young women’s tales, and if one can overlook all the extraneous appurtenances, this film does indeed reward.

In addition to its current theatrical engagements in New York and Los Angeles,
Girl Rising is being released via a demand-based theatrical distribution platform called Gathr. Nearly 450 screenings are now being organized nationwide.