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I didn't like Girl Hood (Liz Garbus, 2003) at first, but it grew on me.
It's the story of two girls who committed violent crimes in their childhoods and how they go about trying to forge new lives. Both girls have been horribly abused (raped and beaten multiple times, by multiple people, often at once), and come from homes that are broken in one way or the other, and by the end of it, one of them comes out okay, and the other suffers.
So why didn't I like this movie at first? Well, it's not very well made, I don't think. That is to say, in this modern era where everybody is making documentaries, I think we've gotten used to documentaries with clever editing, quirky narratives, or the author somehow inserted into the work. This documentary is a throwback to what we used to think of when we heard that term - a lot of it is raw interview footage, the filmmaker is not a part of it in any way, and it's extensive - not cut to make it entertaining, per se. There doesn't seem to be some kind of unspoken commentary or "knowing" filmmaker behind it, it's footage of these two girls' lives. But you have to applaud the filmmaker for caring, and Liz Garbus does follow both girls through three critical years of their lives, and ultimately, what happens to them is fascinating.
But the real reason why Girl Hood eventually won me over was because like my favorite documentaries, it really does force you to think about its subject. The truth of the matter is that both of these girls didn't really have a chance from jump. Neither of them has a great childhood, and their parents aren't ideal by any stretch of the imagination. But the nature of the parenting they do have does seem directly responsible for how they turn out, even during the course of this film. I'm deliberately trying not to give anything away, because it's crucial to the story, but whatever your preconceived notions about kids and crime, this movie will either affirm or deny them, one way or the other. And to me, that's ultimately what every documentary is about: drawing your attention to some real life situation and forcing you to think about it for the duration of the film. And Girl Hood definitely does that. Not the best, not the worst, but worth seeing.
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