Girlhood ★★★½

Karidja Touré is brilliant as a 16 year-old black teenager living in a French housing project trying to bust out of a demoralizing, abusive home life and a hopeless future; she tries several things on for size, from crime to bullying to innocent hookups but the best scenes in this often transcendent film occur when she forges an identity with three other girls and they terrorize their school and the city of Paris with wondrous abandon, peaking with what looks to be a magic night dancing to Rihanna in a hotel room while swigging from a Coke bottle with rum in it. The rest is beautifully acted and shot but, inevitably, the criminal-underworld scenes that come later on are less persuasive and revealing about who this character really is, apart from someone who seeks to bust out of the shell the world has put around her in every possible way. This shares a lot more with The 400 Blows than it does with the roughly contemporary Boyhood (and its French title in fact is more like Band of Girls, the U.S. translation apparently being a marketing ploy), right up to its truly splendid final shot; its unflinching but never exploitative sense of day-to-day reality for the marginalized and the codes and joys that can be shared within a group of teenagers also calls to mind Jim McKay's unfortunately obscure Girls Town, which is worth looking for if you've got a working VCR or laserdisc player. My biggest complaint here is that I wanted more with the gang; the situations and crises and episodes that comprise the first hour are invariably gripping, and as compelling and deeply felt as Touré's work continues to be, the final act just feels like a movie I've already seen.