We get sent a lot of movies at Lenny: women-centric comedies, issues-based documentaries, each more worthy than the next. But there simply isn't time to engage with every film and also maintain an inspired, uncluttered interior life (plus, let's face it, I have a lot of Love & Hip Hop to watch). So it was with surprise and awe that I clicked a link to Jenny Gage's film All This Panic and found myself in the exact same spot a few hours later, wiping tears from my eyes. What director Jenny and her partner Tom Betterton captured in the documentary — about a group of teenage girls careening through their last years of childhood in Brooklyn — spoke so deeply to my experience that I ached, feeling the kind of nostalgia that is queasy-making.
It's been a long time since I really remembered high school. College, I can summon in a moment. My early twenties are as easy to recite as Lil' Kim lyrics. But high school, I buried in the same place as humiliations like grabbing the wrong woman by the arm in a store because you think she's your mom and finding a stranger instead. To be forgotten are the hot nights in tube tops and bike shorts under the Brooklyn Bridge drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade. The Saturday subway rides to Coney Island for no reason except to watch the Ferris wheel spin. Hours in Laurel's bathtub, trying and failing to dye each other's hair pink with Kool-Aid. And the quiet comfort we offered each other, a tangle of arms and legs and hair, when someone's father left or their boyfriend lied or depression set in, gray as the courthouse where we sat and bummed cigarettes off of older boys.
I don't know those girls anymore. One's a doctor. The other is a teacher my father runs into sometimes at his favorite sandwich place. Yet another I encountered in a hotel lobby in Detroit, struggling for words that would encompass the totality of years of traipsing through Cobble Hill looking for an image of ourselves we could live with. Jemima is on Girls with me, yet somehow we've blocked discussion of the long lost weekends under her leopard duvet, wondering what came next or who'd be yelling at us when we got home.
What Jenny Gage captures in All This Panic is the companionship girls can offer, and also the shocking cruelty of what happens when this kind of love is taken away. Subtly, she notes the differences (class, race, gender) that prevent girls who love each other from really seeing each other, and she paints in sweet pastels the abiding hope that inspires every new kiss, haircut, or walk down the beach. All This Panic is my story geographically and spiritually. But no matter where you come from, you'll recognize the obsessive love, constant loss, and total triumph that is friendship among teenage girls.
STATEMENT, JENNY GAGE:
This film is the story of the lives of the seven teenage girls who we followed over the course of three years. In the end, I hope I gave them what I never had: a diary of their teenage years that honestly and without judgment looks at a time in a girl's life that is full of wonderful, awkward, loving, and confusing moments. A record that celebrated a period of time that most of us would rather forget. Along the way, I realized that the process gave me a chance to explore and reflect on a time that is so crucial in defining who I am today.