'Story of a Girl': Film Review | LAFF 2017

STORY OF A GIRL -Still 1 -Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of LA Film Festival
Comfortably reassuring.

Ryann Shane and Kevin Bacon co-star in Kyra Sedgwick's directorial debut, scheduled for broadcast on the Lifetime channel.

Online indiscretions can represent defining moments for ordinary people just as much as for politicians and celebrities brought down by their own hubris, as sympathetically demonstrated in Story of a Girl. A cautionary coming-of-age drama with an emphasis on the healing power of self-reflection, Kyra Sedgwick's first feature as director should capture the attention of a broad audience when it airs on Lifetime next month. 

Three years after a compromising cell-phone video made the rounds among her junior-high frenemies, 16-year-old Deanna (Ryann Shane) skulks through high school, trailing the reputation of class slut for her inadvisable hookup with upper-classman Tommy (Tyler Johnson). The only thing worse than the daily humiliation is the hostile reaction of her father Ray (Jon Tenney) whenever the unfortunate topic surfaces. Deanna manages as best she can, counting on the day she can graduate and disappear from her insular Oregon hometown.

She’s making escape plans with her brother Darren (Ian Belcher) and his girlfriend Stacey (Sosie Bacon) when they move out of her parents' basement with their baby girl and get a place of their own where she can share the rent. First she'll need to pull together a stake for her share of expenses, so as the summer begins she takes a server job at Craven Pizza, since it's the only place where she gets an offer.

Even though business seems extremely slack, it doesn't seem to faze her gay boss Michael (Kevin Bacon), who's sure that things will pick up over the summer. The larger concern becomes apparent during her first day on the job: Her co-worker is none other than her old nemesis Tommy, whom she's somehow managed to totally avoid in the intervening years since their sex clip went viral. Confronted with keeping her job or maintaining her pride, Deanna sticks by Michael, who begs her not to quit and promises to forestall any awkward incidents. Whether she can pull through, however, may actually depend more on being able to come to terms with her own past failings.

Adapting Sara Zarr's original novel, screenwriters Laurie Collyer and Emily Bickford Lansbury establish Deanna as the predictable outsider character battling prejudice among her peers and frequent suspicion leveled by her parents. Darren and Stacey stand out as her only allies, along with best friend Jason (Andrew Herr), but their reliability is also challenged by her often-unpredictable behavior. Ironically, Deanna's self-destructive tendencies only begin to abate with her internal struggle to confront Tommy and his often dismissive attitude.

Shane (Cinemax's Banshee) embraces Deanna's rebellious nature, owning her controversial reputation while trying to rise above her past by searching for an opportunity to reinvent herself in a town that's already stereotyped her. Recognizing another marginalized victim, Bacon's Michael offers Deanna doses of friendly advice and extends lighthearted acceptance of her shortcomings, which somewhat relieve the film's borderline melodramatic tone.

Sedgwick surrounds herself with familiar faces by casting husband Bacon and daughter Sosie in leading roles, but devotes her considerable talents to elevating Deanna's predicament above the typically embattled victim of online indiscretion. In particular, she smoothly handles a late plot twist providing a surprising revelation about Deanna's situation without overplaying its significant import.

This sympathetic approach will doubtless connect with Lifetime's predominantly female viewership, who aren't likely to be concerned with the film's inherently modest stylistic choices. And to the degree that Story of a Girl challenges conventional expectations rather than reinforcing them, this restraint admirably serves the purpose of foregrounding the characters rather than sensationalizing the central premise.

Production companies: Kikkosview, Random Bench Productions
Cast: Ryann Shane, Kevin Bacon, Tyler Johnson, Jon Tenney, Sosie Bacon, Ian Belcher, Caroline Cave, Andrew Herr
Director: Kyra Sedgwick
Screenwriters: Laurie Collyer, Emily Bickford Lansbury
Producers: Kyra Sedgwick, Emily Bickford Lansbury, Liz Levine, Adrian Salpeter
Executive producer: Ross Katz
Director of photography: Alar Kivilo
Editor: Sabine Hoffman
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival

89 minutes