Review of “Itty Bitty Titty Committee”

 
 

POWER UP's first feature film, the Jamie Babbit-directed Itty Bitty Titty Committee, is something of a rare gem: a genuinely funny and occasionally endearing look at grassroots-style feminist groups and the feisty young women who run them. Shot on a shoestring budget, Itty Bitty is an entertaining crowd-pleaser that both celebrates and pokes gentle fun at the grungy, punk-rock world it depicts.

The story follows Anna (Melonie Diaz), a young Latina lesbian suffering from self-esteem issues and dual rejection — she didn't get in to college and her first girlfriend has just dumped her. Anna lives with her supportive (if occasionally overbearing) family and works at a cosmetic surgeon's office until, one day, sexy Sadie (Nicole Vicius) of the CIA (Clits In Action) defaces the office and invites Anna to an official group meeting.

Anna soon meets the other CIA sisters: Shuli (Carly Pope of Dirt and Popular), the half-crazed ex-lawyer and political brainpower of the group; Meat (Deak Evgenikos), the anarchic artist; Aggie (Lauren Mollica), who is transitioning from female to male; and various other hangers-on.

Anna's initiation to the group includes lookout duty for one of the CIA's public projects — replacing the skinny mannequins in a local store with their own creations and marking their territory with the slogan "Women come in all shapes and sizes." As we'll soon come to realize, missions like this are the hallmark of the CIA, acts meant to "inspire and educate women from all around." It's all very women's studies-gone-guerilla, and it's also very fun to watch.

As we meet the other members of the CIA and their hilariously anarchic projects, layers of relationship history begin to peel away, revealing a convincing portrait of a tight-knit group of women. The film is really about the inner workings and drama of these kinds of groups, lovingly rendered from Babbit's own fond memories. The whole film rides on a kind of adolescent, punk-rock energy that seldom lets up.

Itty Bitty is well-paced, spending equal amounts of time exploring the characters and documenting their wacky works. Anna's journey is quite profound as she goes from timid office girl to subversive, pro-femme anarchist. Responsible for taking her down the rabbit hole is Sadie, who is attached to her controlling girlfriend despite all the verve and sass she displays as the CIA's unofficial leader. A wild romance develops between Sadie and Anna, propelling the central conflict of the plot and causing all sorts of chaos within the group dynamic.

In a character-based comedy, casting is everything, and in Itty Bitty it's spot on. Carly Pope shines as the neurotic, destructive leader of the pack, Shuli; Nicole Vicius gives a remarkable performance as the slippery Sadie; Melonie Diaz makes Anna a perfect blend of postadolescent gumption and sensitivity.

Even the supporting roles are a hoot, with Jenny Shimizu as a grumpy roommate, Guinevere Turner as a preening talk show host, and Daniela Sea in a relatively fun role as an ex-army girl with a penchant for blowing things up.

It's a pleasure to watch Anna's transition from average 18-year-old kid to the CIA's spunky new brainchild. As the film begins, Anna is at a dress store, uncomfortably going through a fitting for a bridesmaid's dress (her sister is getting married). During the film, both Anna's room and her attitude toward the wedding signal her changing view of the world. Once filled with teenybopper posters and cute knickknacks, her room becomes a collection of punk posters and CIA scrawlings, illustrating just how young and impressionable she really is.

It's wonderful to see a film about radical feminism that isn't afraid to poke fun at its characters in this way. The overall tone is quite affectionate, and it feels almost memoir-like in its earnestness and honesty. It's quite clear that it was Babbit's intention to paint a picture of a world full of youthful energy and exuberance without leaving out all the potentially embarrassing details that go along with that.

Issues of representation and gender, race and sexuality are also handled quite nicely in the film. The fact that Itty Bitty successfully weaves together a tale about radical feminism and bringing down the patriarchy without resorting to gross stereotypes is quite a feat. It's also positive to note that Anna's family is very accepting of their daughter's sexuality, even mentioning her (freshly ex) girlfriend to casual friends at a dinner. It's great to see a Latina family portrayed as loving and fully accepting of their lesbian daughter.

Visually, the film is true to its punk-inspired roots. In fact, Babbit has stated that the visual style of the film is heavily influenced by the aesthetic of '90s riot grrl videos and artwork. Shot in a personal, almost faux-documentary style with grainy, Super 8 montages depicting concerts and "acts of public disturbance," Itty Bitty effectively channels the messy, energetic rhythm of the music that inspired it.

And the soundtrack to the film is wonderful and plentiful, full of bands including Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Peaches and a whole slew of other artists underscoring almost every scene.

Visually and aurally, the film is quite busy, but it's never difficult to follow the action. However, the film is loud and often outrageous, and therefore not for everyone. Anyone easily offended by the language or other aspects of a radical punk lifestyle should steer clear. And though its low-budget aesthetic certainly works in its favor, some will be put off by a film that looks as if it were shot on a budget of 50 cents.

The film combines so many elements (heaps of music, a large cast, varying visual styles, a difficult-to-capture subject matter) that it sounds like a disaster on paper, but the messy, natural feel works beautifully. Overall, Itty Bitty is a crazy, funny, foul-mouthed, crowd-pleasing winner — one of the most enjoyable films to come out of the festival circuit in some time.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee will be screening at a number of LGBT film festivals this summer. To watch a trailer and behind-the-scenes videos for the film, visit our Itty Bitty page.

 
 

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