With gorgeous cinematography and compelling characters, this cinema verite-style documentary reminds viewers how complicated an experience it is to grow up. Reminiscent of dramas like Thirteen and Boyhood, Gage and Betterton's film explores the process of coming of age in the big city. The girls are middle and upper-middle (by NYC standards) public school students who attend the famed La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts. They come from different backgrounds and face a range of challenges, talking about everything from what they're wearing on their first day of school (their feelings about that subject inspired the movie's title) to where they're applying to college, who they're crushing on/hope to hook up with, etc.
Although All This Panic features about several young women, Gage and Betterton focus primarily on Lena and Ginger, best friends who manage to be there for each other again and again, despite not seeming to have all that much in common. By sticking with the girls after they graduate, the filmmakers reveal how college becomes a dividing line. Lena, who gets little financial support from her divorced parents, still goes off to university, while Ginger, whose parents are married and financially stable, stays home to act (but, as her father says, only works 11 days in six months). All of the girls are fascinating in their own way, and Gage takes them all seriously, listening and observing and never judging. Betterton is a talented cinematographer, capturing the tiniest moments -- a lot of touches and laughs -- with the joy and pathos of a far more experienced DP. Of all the girls, it's a shame there wasn't more of Sage, who has a lot to say about grief (her father died), diversity (she's decided to attend Howard University), and feminism. There's no real arc to this story, but it's still worth watching, especially if you were once a teen girl or, like many adults, are parenting one.