BREAKING THE GIRLS Is A Meager Potboiler That Never Capitalizes On Its Strengths
Nov 14, 2013
Even small thrillers tend to find a measure of success if (and that’s the key word) they can summon something ‘new’ or ‘exciting’ upon which to capitalize an otherwise thin plotline. In many respects, it’s a cultural phenomenon not unlike what action films endure – when one is successful, leave it to the next aspiring screenwriter to recast that original idea in a new mold, and – voila! – you have a reasonably efficacious rip-off … but a rip-off, nonetheless. More than any other city, Hollywood knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that’s probably why films like BREAKING THE GIRLS have a chance of getting made: they’ll imitate what’s been done before, add in a twist (say ‘lesbianism’), and hope for the best.
The failure to legitimately capitalize on that twist will kill you every time, and that’s a lesson I hope all involved learned with this meager film that tries hard but, in the end, just doesn’t quite deliver on its potential.
(NOTE: The following review will contain spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A financially strapped law student, Sara (played constantly as if under the influence of an Ambien by Agnes Bruckner) gets caught stealing from the tip jar at her job, so she immediately cozies up to wealthy socialite Alex (Madeline Zima) for a place to stay and a meal on her table. However, Alex has sights set on something greater – much like what was done long before in Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, she wants to kill Sara’s ‘mortal enemy’ at school while having the student kill her step-mom (Kate Levering) so they can escape with what’s left of the family fortune: a cool $50 million in cash. But, as is often the case in thrillers of this sort, everyone ends up functioning from conflicting agendas, so there’s no possible way everyone could get out of this scott-free if it means to die trying!
As might be clear from my synopsis, one central problem with so much of BREAKING THE GIRLS is that there isn’t an original bone in its 87 minute body. Everything in there – from the plot points to the relationships of these routine characters – feels as if it’s been shamelessly pilfered from other more superior works that have come before; compressing all of it into less than 90 minutes only serves to elevate its elements of incredulity. Boy meets girl; girl meets girl; girl gets on girl; girls plot dueling murders; girl A gets doublecrossed; girl B feels misled; boy re-enters story for needed sexual tension; etc. and so forth.
Director Jamie Babbit brings little vision to a script from Mark Distefano and Guinevere Turner, and maybe that’s because he wasn’t sure how to embody any of this hand-me-down with a sense of freshness or, at least, an air of originality. As such, the performances across the board all suffer from what ends up being a by-the-numbers procedural that dumps one convoluted twist after another in its finale perhaps in dire hope of inspiring audiences to look more closely the second time through: my guess is that they’ll all have already headed for the exits.
BREAKING THE GIRLS (2013) is produced by Myriad Pictures for IFC Midnight. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, yes, fine, the film looks and sounds mostly solid despite any sense of urgency or better use of some wonderful shooting locations. As for the special features? If you’re interested (I wasn’t), there’s a set of short interviews with the cast and crew as well as the theatrical trailer … which incidentally make this one look much more of a potboiler than it truly is.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED. It isn’t as if BREAKING THE GIRLS isn’t entertaining; the problem is that it’s entirely predictably entertaining with stoic performances, uninspired direction, and an entirely cookie cutter script. In fact, one can see the formula – insert hot girl-on-girl vibe here – present every time the contrived plot rears its ugly head. Had there been more substance here (and less ludicrousness to the final act), then it might’ve registered at least as a potential guilty pleasure; as it is, you’re free to think of it like 1996’s memorable BOUND but without the same slickness, intelligence, and sex appeal.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of BREAKING THE GIRLS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.