Girl Rising: Film Review

Girl Rising - H 2013
This stylistically ambitious if occasionally clunky documentary delivers a vitally important message.

Richard E. Robbins' narrative-infused documentary tells the inspirational stories of nine girls from developing countries who overcome adversity.

More stylistically ambitious than the typical social-consciousness-raising documentaries appearing with regularity, Girl Rising presents the heartrending stories of nine girls from as many developing countries who overcome adversity. This film, directed by Oscar nominee Richard E. Robbins (Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience), places a particularly important and timely emphasis on education and its life-changing effects. Currently receiving a limited release in New York and Los Angeles, it’s also being showcased in cities nationwide via Gathr, a new demand-based theatrical-distribution platform.

Featuring brief and sometimes clunky narrative episodes written by a notable author from each country, the film’s diverse subjects include an Egyptian girl who violently strikes back against her rapist; a Haitian girl stubbornly determined to attend school after that country’s devastating earthquake despite her family’s inability to pay the tuition; and a Peruvian girl, whimsically named after Xena the Warrior Princess, who writes poetry in tribute to her father, who made her attend school.

The dramatic segments -- featuring a combination of performers and the real-life subjects involved, and occasionally including animated interludes -- are interspersed with segments in which relevant and often horrifying statistics are seen on signs held up by a multiracial group of young women in a grassy meadow. Further information is delivered by Liam Neeson in his trademark stentorian baritone, while narration is provided by a gallery of notable actresses including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek.

While its mixture of cinematic styles is awkward more often than not, Girl Rising deserves points for at least trying something different rather than relying on the bone-dry, academic approach usually employed for such informational ventures. And there’s certainly no denying the vital importance of its inspirational message.   

Opens: Friday, March 8 (Gathr Films)
Production: The Documentary Group, Vulcan Productions
Director: Richard E. Robbins
Producers: Martha Adams, Louise Lovegrove, Gina Nemirofsky, Beth Osisek, Richard E. Robbins, Tom Yellin
Executive producers: Paul G. Allen, Holly Gordon, Tom Yellin
Directors of photography: Islam Abdelsamie, Adam Beckman, David Rush Morrison, Felipe Perez-Burchard, Steven Piet, Kiran Reddy, Nicole Hirsch Whitaker
Editor: Gillian McCarthy
Composer: Lorne Balfe