"All Over Me"
Opened: April 25, 1997 | Rated: R
"All Over Me" would make an ideal companion feature for "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Both films capture remarkably the overwhelming frustration of teenage grief, but both have a string of irony and humor that makes them funny, painful and vividly empathetic.
In "All Over Me," Alison Folland ("To Die For") and Tara Subkoff ("Freeway") give sublime performances as Claude and Ellen, two Hell's Kitchen 15-year-olds exploring their sexuality and searching for acceptance in the harsh shadow of a hostile, low-rent neighborhood they can't escape.
Ellen, with a willowy figure and a pretty, pouty face, has learned to seduce and manipulate for what she wants. She's not very good at it yet, as evidenced by the drug-dealing boyfriend she successfully ensnared and now fears (with good reason).
Claude, who has a bit of a manly demeanor, is testing the waters of her lesbian leanings while at the same time trying to stifle her romantic sentiments for Ellen, which could well kill their kinship.
Written by Sylvia Sichel and directed by her sister Alex, "All Over Me" would feel almost like a documentary if it weren't so personal.
Like many teenagers, Claude and Ellen are not on equal footing in their friendship. Claude's love keeps her under Ellen's thumb and Ellen takes advantage. But Ellen would be lost without Claude to look after her.
The friendship threatens to unravel after it appears Ellen's boyfriend may have killed one of Claude's gay friends. Ellen turns to cocaine, trying to forget. Claude turns to another girl.
Folland and Subkoff are unforgettable, and under Alex Sichel's direction, their attention to character detail is what lends this film it's palatable authenticity.
The first time Claude ventures into a nightclub that caters to young lesbians and the Grrrl crowd, her initial unease is gradually replaced with a sense of comfort that becomes almost joy by the end of the scene. The transformation is striking.
In the same way, there is a feeling all along that Ellen's insecurities will always get the best of her. She is not a confident soul, despite any airs she might put on.
Sichel's realism is remarkable -- the underlying restlessness of the girls neighborhood makes the audience nervous and gives the film a grounding sense of place. But more importantly she fills the screen with subtle emotion by lingering on the faces of her characters -- even as they kiss, bringing meaning (but not always pleasure) to every touch.
There may not be a more personal and affecting film this year.