Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire Adaptation Looks Great (Even Without Angelina Jolie)

On the comprehensive list of gay rites of passage, “watch Foxfire” is listed somewhere between “fall for a straight girl” and “run a seven-season marathon of Buffy.” The film adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel has a big cult following among queers, and for good reason.

The ’96 indie film centers around drifter Margaret “Legs” Sadovsky (a then-unknown Angelina Jolie) and her band of quasi-feminist thieves. Among the gang’s members are Rita (rocker Jenny Lewis), Goldie (model Jenny Shimizu), Violet (Sarah Rosenberg), and Maddy (Hedy Burress)–a silent, stoic-type becomes Legs’ closest confidant. As the girls rail against suburban patriarchy to the sounds of The Cramps and L7, lesbian subtext abounds! Maddy and Legs have enough eye sex to fuel one space shuttle or 20 Faberry fanfics. There also is a seven-minute topless tattoo’ing montage set to Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust.”

But realtalk: Aside from casting, Foxfire is sort of…terrible. While I bawled as the final credits rolled, I quickly realized that I wasn’t weeping because of the plot. I was mourning the loss of Angelina Jolie’s tomboy swagger (RIP).  The dialogue is cringe-worthy at worst and dated at best. Also, the intermittently-spersed electric guitar solos make the movie a little less Revolution Grrrl Style Now and a lot more ABC After-School Special. If your friends give you shit for digging this gem out of the $5 DVD bargain bin, the only excuse worth making is that you’re doing “herstorical research” on Jenny Lee Lewis’ transformation from doll-faced teen into indie rock goddess and Jolie’s off-screen romance with Shimizu.

Jenny Shimizu and Angelina Jolie. Foxfire set, 1995.

When I picked up the novel on which the film was based several years ago, I was hooked by page three. Oates’ writing is so neurotic–heavy on detail and light on punctuation–that it deceives you into reading more, page after page after page:

Among the men though there’s a girl, it turns out, a young girl possibly fourteen or fifteen years old, so there’s a brief noisy debate about whether she should be ‘allowed’ to compete and she’s ‘allowed’ at least provisionally, a tomboy sort of girl in a T-shirt, jeans, sneakers, ashy-blond hair in a ponytail hanging halfway down her back…

While Oates’ Foxfire:Confessions of a Girl Gang has a “group of girls take on The Man” premise that’s similar to its cinematic adaptation, the setting is worlds away. Instead of taking place in the Portland, Oregon during the 90s, Foxfire was originally set in 50s Upstate New York. The gang is living in a more intolerable place and time, immediately upping their stakes. In the novel, Legs, Goldie, Maddy, Violet and Rita aren’t even suburbanites; they’re working class kids with absent parents who Oates describes as hailing “from the wrong side of the tracks.” They aren’t watered-down riot grrrls. They’re the female answer to The Outsiders, but with better hair and high-waisted denim.

I loved the book so much that I immediately felt like I’d been cheated out of a damned good adaptation of a solid American novel. But 16 years after the first adaptation, the novel is actually getting a do-over at the hands of  Laurent Cantet! Meet the new and improved Foxfire gang:

L to R: Not sure, Not sure, Rita, Maddy, Legs, Goldie

If production stills are any indication, Cantet’s Confessions seems to honor the original work. The only thing I love more than a blue collar is an orange scarf–those play an important role in the book.

I absolutely love the meticulousness of the classic automobiles, the Foxfire gang’s dog, and even the casting in the newer adaptation. Just by looking at the production stills, I know who has been cast as “Legs” Sadovsky and Maddy Wirtz. Filmed in 2011, Cantet’s Confessions–like the original–consists of a cast of relative unknowns.

When Confessions premiered at TIFF several months back, it received so-so reviews, including one from The Hollywood Reporter:

Foxfire remains a potent and occasionally touching depiction of feminism avant la lettre, and even if this gang is not always credible, there is at least one standout performance from Admanson as the uncompromising and crafty Legs (a part originally played by Angelina Jolie in a little-known 1996 adaptation). The actress’s scraggly frame, large eyes and Joan of Arc haircut are in sharp contrast to her character’s commanding persona, but she remains someone you’d gladly follow.

If you skip ahead to 2:05, you can watch a clip from the film here:

It remains to be seen whether Cantet’s Confessions will go down in girl-girl history like its predecessor, but its young actors are going to give Jolie and Shimizu quite the run for their money. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang is set for wide-release in January.

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Sarah Fonseca is from tiny Georgia towns yet always finds herself in big cities. An essayist and journal-keeper by heart, her work has been featured in Lambda Review, Lavender Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. Her ultimate goal in life is to get back to that seven year-old place where everything was backwards ballcaps, long hair, and red rover.

fonseca has written 47 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Pingback: Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire Adaptation Looks Great (Even Without Angelina Jolie) – Autostraddle | Yme Wp Robot

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    Sorta bummed you pointed out the cheapness of the rest of the movie, save for casting. Now I won’t be able to enjoy a topless, tomboy Jolie tattooing a gang of girls unless I find the clip on youtube.
    However, I’m looking forward to the new one, and lo and behold! There’s a book.

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    I fell in love with this book as a teenager. I also fell in love with the movie then because the book was so powerful, and I still hold it in high regard, even with all its flaws. Foxfire- book, movie, whatever, will always ignite something in me; it was absolutely instrumental in the discovery of my homo-ness. For that I’ll always be grateful. Super excited for this new movie.

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    Even though the ’96 Foxfire film is cheesy and definitely not a cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s great. I’m a sucker for the plaid, denim & grunge of the 90’s. Add Portland and a solid cast including Angelina Jolie? Done. Looking forward to watching the new adaptation and reading the actual book though.

  5. Pingback: Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt latest news: Couple fighting over ex? + More Angelina Jolie News | US News Page – trending stories at your fingertips

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    Maybe it’s because I was a teenager when I watched it, but I LOVED this movie. Very excited for a remake. I have to admit I haven’t read the book but it’s on my list!

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      **This post contains book spoilers!**

      Yes, it is. There is a reason for that, though. The book is set in the ’50s, not a time really known for integration. And that’s actually addressed in the later parts of the book, with Legs making friends with some black girls while she’s in juvie, then later confronting some of the Foxfire girls about their racism when they don’t want the girls to join up. Since this adaptation seems more faithful to the book, I’m hoping they keep that in. Because then, even if there aren’t really major characters of color, the racism/segregation issue is at least dragged out in the open and roundly condemned (Legs was really fucking pissed!). That’s at least lampshading that is somewhat better than we usually get with entirely white casts, where the exclusion of people of color is not acknowledged at all and is thus treated by the makers as a crazy random happenstance.

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    I really believe movies based on books can’t and shouldn’t be the same as their source material, but I am so so so happy that a movie is being made out of Foxfire is being done again in a way that seems more adaptation and less AU.

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    I’ve had this book on my to-read list ever since I first saw the 1996 film version years ago, but have yet to get to it. I think I need to bump it up towards the top. The new film adaptation looks interesting just from that short clip. I like the 90s version for what it is but I did always feel like the girls didn’t really DO anything aside from hang out in that old house and be sort of gay together. The only thing they do (from my memory) that could be considered vaguely “activist” is save Maddie from that douchebag and steal his car. Just from that brief clip it’s clear in the new adaptation that the gang has a purpose and is trying to make a statement with their actions.

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    I am so excited about this!!! I watched the first movie and, like many 90s teen queers, loved it. Loved it so much I ran out to the library to get the book. The book was so fucking amazing, I’ve never been able to watch the movie again. Because it just doesn’t hold a candle to the book! Really, all the movie has in common with the book is some of the character names. The book is a scathing look at sexism, classism, and (to a lesser extent) racism in the ’50s (criticisms that remain depressingly relevent today), mixed with a whole heap of homoerotic subtext and underdogs banding together. The main point of the movie is that…friends are important? I dunno. It was completely toothless in comparison.

    I really hope this new adaptation does the book justice!

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    Foxfire lead to my first GF. A beautiful woman lured me back to her place to watch Foxfire. After the movie

    “What’s your persuasion” she said.
    “Catholic?” I said confused by the question.

    She laughed and then she kissed me and I spent the night.

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