Those benefits come not
only in the form of learning to play their respective instruments, but also in
mentoring experiences. Jam sessions featuring counselors and local
women-fronted bands inspire the girls, who watch in awe as the Gossip performs.
Laura cites Beth Ditto as an inspiration, and her end-of-camp performance
certainly evokes a Ditto-esque commanding presence onstage.
One of the most touching
parts of the film is when the girls gather together to talk with a counselor
about why it’s hard being a girl. As they pass the microphone around, each has a
statement to make, whether it’s because their brother is mean to them, or they
just don’t feel like they are given as many chances as boys.
Portland is a city well-known for being queer-friendly,
so it’s no surprise that many of the musical leaders at the camp are lesbian
and bisexual women such as Brownstein and Ditto. Sexuality is not referenced in
the film, but that’s most likely because it’s not an issue. These young girls are
at camp to learn how to be themselves, and their parents respect the talents of
the leaders to teach them how to play a guitar and gain self-confidence as well
Throughout the film,
facts such as "The number one wish of teenage girls is to lose weight"
and "Only 22 percent of musical performers are women in music videos"
are presented. These are not hard to believe, but they’re still hard pills to
swallow, especially when watching the girls come alive writing songs that
seem to emerge so naturally. Eight-year-old Amelia even came to camp with 14
songs written about her Chihuahua,
The soundtrack to the
film is a perfect narrator, from the Blow to Le Tigre to Veruca Salt and the
Donnas. Bikini Kill’s iconic "Rebel Girl" serves not only as an
anthem for the riot grrls of the 1990s, but for all girls who pick up a
microphone, guitar pick or drum stick.
Throughout Girls Rock!, each girl deals with some
sort of breakdown that translates into a breakthrough. Amelia has to let her
bandmates have a say in the songwriting process; Laura has to get up the courage
to let loose; Misty has to pull it together and not punch any of her bandmates.
But the most
heartbreaking story belongs to Palace. At 7 years old, she’s a sassy redhead
whose mom openly admits to pressuring her about her appearance. And while
Palace looks like perfection, she’s got to get used to working with others. Her
social anxiety often has kept her out of school, and instead of learning how to
cooperate, she’s learned to hit and scream. Even though she looks older than her
years, she’s still a 7-year-old.
All of the girls’ hard
work is culminates in a concert for parents and friends at the end of the
weeklong camp. The girls do indeed rock once they reach the stage. The musical
and emotional transformations are evident on their faces both onstage and after
It’s a contagious
transformation, caught on film and treated carefully and fairly by two male
filmmakers who say they’ve caught the fever themselves.
Rock! opens on March 7, 2008, in select cities. For screening locations and dates,
visit the film’s official site.