You’re a 12 year old girl in a new school and a new city on your way to a school picnic in white jeans, what could go wrong? Your first menstrual cycle, damnit, but instead of following the current trend of easy gross-out humor, writer/director Dorie Barton takes a charming path through an event that -like most coming of age changes- is more traumatic on the people around us than the person walking the path.
Bird (the delightful Jade Pettyjohn) is the adult supervision to Mom Jen (Katee Sackhoff) who has the duo house sitting for her traveling Mother. Bird is wistful for her past life in the Valley and wants normal things, like to grocery shop (my kind of girl!) as we join her through the week of her first cycle. Jen is a loving Mom but is revealed through contextual clues to have perhaps not had as much guidance as she needed early on which is now feeding Bird and Jen’s relationship, as well as her one with boyfriend Arlo (the very mellow but rock solid Jeremy Sisto). Jen solidly thinks this is about her, “I’m too young to be a grandma” and the weeks events stir up her own lost childhood/wrong path demons to distract her from Bird’s needs.
Given the subject matter this could have been trite and tacky fodder for an afternoon special but Barton keeps it low key and very real. The solid friends who help us navigate our world, the humor among friends and sarcastic families, people who get so wrapped up in what could-have-been that they don’t see what’s right in front of them; she never takes the easy way out nor the over the top reaction. Even when it’s a gut punch it’s so very genuine and doesn’t feel contrived, which I found refreshing.
Barton also has an amazing eye for layering, with the background color and order informing the viewer about the nature of the people the room/clothing/car represent. She tackles a lot of societal norms and beloved fairy tales indirectly (Prince Charming may not ride a white steed, he may play you a raspy tune in the corner but if he’s all-in you need to choose wisely) and celebrates the lengths we go to to comfort ourselves in times of change, in this case with a moon sister gathering.
The cast was splendid, the story clicked along nicely and the primary players were whole and well written. No Nicholas Sparks schmaltz or Michael Bay action in place of exposition, just a warm well constructed coming of age piece that doesn’t beat you over the head with a message. Remember those golden oldies? When the author and director left the analysis up to the viewer but gave you a well enough crafted tome to complete the puzzle if you wanted to? That may be the best takeaway from Barton’s little gem Girl Flu, so I’ll be looking forward to her next endeavor.