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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that All This Panic is a documentary that follows several New York City teens over a three-year period. The story revolves around the loosely associated girls (some are best friends, two are siblings, others are acquaintances) as they come of age in the city and hang out with friends, discuss school, deal with their families, and prepare/go to college and enter adulthood.
Expect a fair bit of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," etc.), candid discussions and/or scenes of underage substance use/abuse (alcohol and drugs), sexuality (half-naked teens are briefly shown in bed together), and other coming-of-age issues. But ultimately the film encourages parent-teen communication and is likely to spark worthwhile conversations.
What's the story?
In ALL THIS PANIC, husband-and-wife photographers-turned-filmmakers Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton follow several young women around Brooklyn, most of them seniors at the same New York City high school. The roster includes best friends Leah, who has an unstable home life and divorced parents, and Ginger, who has comfortable parents but no plans for college. Then there's Ginger's younger sister, Dusty, and her close friend Delia. And Olivia, who's coming to terms with being a lesbian, and Sage, the only featured African-American girl, who's being raised by a widow who has high expectations for her daughter. There isn't a plot, per se; just a general arc of the issues the girls-turned-women are dealing with at different stages.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the drug and alcohol use in All This Panic. What, if any, consequences do the teens face for their substance use? Parents, talk about whether you agree with the attitude of the parents in the movie about "partying."
How is teen sexuality portrayed here? Why do you think Ginger says that she's only spoken to her mother once about sex? Is that realistic?
How does Ginger react to Dusty's announcement that she doesn't want to be known as a girl who has sex or takes drugs? Why does Ginger consider her sister being more straight-edge to be "fake" or even a denial of her humanity?
What does Sage mean when she says that teenage girls are meant to be looked at but not heard? Is that what society has taught young women -- that they're only good for their beauty, but not their thoughts?
Are the featured teens and their experiences relatable? What do you think the filmmakers hoped to accomplish in making this movie?
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