Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
When I was growing up, female-driven coming-of-age films were mostly non-existent. Sure, we had books like Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, and high-school movies from John Hughes (SIXTEEN CANDLES, PRETTY IN PINK), but we didn’t have many cinematic stories to relate to from a tween’s perspective. Today’s generation, however, has been gifted with so much more – including director Dorie Barton’s GIRL FLU, a light-hearted, feel-good comedy with a dramatic tinge about two females who both have yet to totally mature. If you’re into cute, tender and endearing mother-daughter narratives, this is your new jam.
Introspective twelve-year-old Robyn (Jade Pettyjohn), or “Bird” as her mother Jenny (Katee Sackhoff) calls her, is about to have the hardest week of her life: on the same day as her class graduation party, and whilst speaking with her crush Carlos (Diego Josef), Bird gets her period. Even worse? This rite-of-passage has not only wrecked her grandmother’s crisp white jeans, but it’s also wrecked Bird’s confidence, thanks to class bully Rachel (Isabella Acres). Arriving home early, she catches her mom and boyfriend Arlo (Jeremy Sisto) en flagranté. Bird is then put on the fast track to cramps, neurosis and anxiety – all while learning to navigate this new minefield chock full of feminine products and hormones.
There are quite a few refreshing discoveries within this little gem. Sackhoff has impressive comedic timing. Sure, she’s played a mother before, but not like this, as she’s playing a woman doing the best she can given her limited maturity. Barton’s written her a part that really allows her to exhibit range, adeptly finding the sweetness within Jenny’s frustrations and the confusion within her happiness. In fact, even the supporting roles – specifically those played by Heather Matarazzo and Judy Reyes – are well fleshed out with dramatic arcs. Pettyjohn is absolutely adorable. You really connect to her relatable trials and tribulations. Your heart bleeds when Bird is struggling or mortified. Though she goes big with her neurosis too fast, Pettyjohn’s able to make the journey a resonant one. Alice Brooks’ cinematography is welcoming, glowing warmth, adding another layer of sunshine onto Barton’s storytelling.
Barton’s exacting direction achieves a solid tonal balance between the heart and humor. While it does waver with two scenes that involve Arlo pretending to be Bird’s much older boyfriend, it feels well-intentioned, like it comes from an honest, heartfelt place. There’s also not a lot of closure to Bird’s bullying problem or Jenny and Arlo’s relationship dramas, but, hey. I guess that’s something for GIRL FLU 2: A RUSH OF BLOOD to address.
GIRL FLU played the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 6.