‘Foxfire’ and the Intensity of Queer Teen Friendship

In “Lost Movie Reviews From the Autostraddle Archives” we revisit past lesbian, bisexual, and queer classics that we hadn’t reviewed before, but you shouldn’t miss. This week is Annette Haywood-Carter‘s Foxfire.


Before this week, I had never seen Foxfire, and yet watching it felt…familiar. Not in a trite or tired way; in an almost comforting way. Different parts reminded me of Thirteen, The Craft, Heathers, and even Lost and Delirious. (Don’t @ me, I imprinted on that film at a young age.) It’s a group of girls breaking free of expectations, it’s getting caught up in a mysterious stranger, it’s girlhood and teendom and that moment in time when you’re too old to buy into adults’ bullshit but too young to do too much about it. As a child of the 90s, it gave me a sense of nostalgia — a strange feeling to have while watching a movie you’ve never seen before.

Foxfire is based on the book of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, though it does have a few significant changes. For one, the book takes place over a few years, while the movie happens over the course of a few weeks. That’s typical for a movie like this; it’s usually one season or one school year of Big Change. Along with Angelina Jolie, the movie stars Jenny Shimizu (who Jolie started dating while filming this movie), Hedy Burress, singer Jenny Lewis, and Sarah Rosenberg as our core crew: Legs, Goldie, Maddy, Rita, and Violet. (Also Maddy’s mother is played by Cathy Moriarty, who I recognized by voice first, because Casper was one of my favorite movies as a youth.)

When the movie opens, the vibe is very Yellowjackets — the music, the overgrown cabin in the woods, the lighting, the needle drops. There were a few times I questioned whether a rock song was the correct choice over something softer or more subtle, but then I listened to the lyrics and knew exactly why it was chosen.

The story begins with Maddy, who guides us into the story by way of voiceover. She is skating through life, literally and physically. She has a perfectly nice boyfriend, a spot in an art school, a polaroid camera, and roller blades. But then one day her world is shaken up by the arrival of a mysterious stranger who stomps through the halls in motorcycle boots and is called “young man” by a security guard. This, we will later learn is Legs.

Legs strolls into a science classroom, where a teacher is giving a girl named Rita a hard time. Unlike the other girls — including Rita — Legs stands up to him. When he tries to give her detention, she just laughs and says she doesn’t even go here and jumps out the window. Eventually she meets up with Maddy, Rita, and some other girls in the bathroom and finds out the teacher has been sexually harassing students. She says they should do something about it.

Foxfire: Legs, Rita and Maddy in the girls' bathroom

Is there anywhere more equal parts fraught and sacred as a high school girls’ bathroom?

The girls had genuinely never considered this; he was a teacher, what could they do? But following Legs’ lead, they terrorize him a little and when he starts to lose his cool, they beat him up, Rita eventually threatening him. They run out of the school together, high on their success, and thus a little vigilante girl gang is born. They eventually get suspended for this act, and spend the three weeks of their suspension together in the abandoned house in the woods in a bit of a mystical haze. Legs had caused a disruption, and for the first time they’ve broken free of their narrow guardrails their lives had been on and they’re thrilled about it. They’re branded troublemakers for standing up to bullies and potential rapists, but together, they are unstoppable.

Throughout the movie, Legs and Maddy have little moments, something a extra in the link between them. Legs sneaks into Maddy’s window one night and asks to borrow a shirt, sleeps on her floor, the tension thick. Legs asks, “Maddy, sweetheart, did I scare you?” in a way that doesn’t entirely feel like she’s talking about the unexpected knock at her bedroom window. Because Legs does scare Maddy. She was perfectly content skating through life — or, rather, rolling — but now she’s seen that there can be…more. She tries not to stare at Legs’ naked back as she changes her shirt, and follows her eagerly the next morning, afraid Legs will disappear as suddenly as she appeared.

During one of the gang’s capers where they set off the fire alarms at school late one night, Maddy and Legs end up huddled close in a supply closet, Legs’ fingers pressed against Maddy’s lips to keep her quiet.

Foxfire: Angelina Jolie as Legs puts her fingers over Maddy's lips while in a storage closet.

Good thing the fire alarm is already going off because this is hot.

Back at the abandoned house they’ve turned into their headquarters, Legs decides to commemorate the events of the day by giving herself a tattoo of a little flame. She wants it on on her chest, so she naturally takes her shirt off to do it topless. The rest of the girls watch, mesmerized, as she pokes herself over and over by the candlelight. As soon as she’s done, Maddy asks for one too and takes her shirt off. One by one they all get tattooed, drinking and smoking, down to their bras or topless. It feels like a sacred ritual.

The girls sit around while Legs tattoos Maddy, both of them topless (though i have added a fire emoji to cover Maddy's visible nip)

I would let Angelina Jolie tattoo whatever she wanted on me.

This scene feels so true to my experience with intense teenage friendships — an intensity increased by my queerness. The connection and draw I felt toward some girls was different than it was to others. I never got a stick-and-poke tattoo from a beautiful, mysterious stranger, but I probably would have if I had been offered.

My friends and I had different rituals, different intense moments we were sure would bond us forever. Some of us would play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. Another friend and I would perform spells in her garage. I felt rebellious connection when my friends dyed my hair red in the bathroom by the cafeteria during drama rehearsal, or while getting high with my cousin’s friend while she was housesitting. It’s that age where you’re starting to realize the adults don’t have all the answers, but you also don’t have any answers, so you try to make something uniquely your own. When you’re a teenager and only remember a decade of your life, everything feels new and important. Every feeling, every relationship, every night feels like it’s going to last forever.

But, of course, they don’t. The feelings change, the relationships fade, the nights end.

One night, Legs tells Maddy she is going to leave soon, and Maddy asks if she can come with her. Legs doesn’t think she’s ready for that.

Maddy: If I told you I loved you, would you take it the wrong way?
Legs: What do you mean by wrong?
Maddy: It’s just…I’m not…and you’re…
Legs: I’ll take it however you want me to, Maddy.

Maddy steps closer and touches Legs’ face, and they smile softly at each other.

Foxfire: Maddy gently touches Legs' face

I was expecting a movie from the 90s to feel a lot cheesier than this felt.

It feels like they’re going to kiss, but instead they talk about the constellations, which is also pretty gay. Maddy nestles into Legs’ shoulder and Legs looks thoughtful as she puts her hand on her back.

(When this scene ended, I was confused as to why they didn’t kiss. It felt like exactly the moment a kiss usually happens in these movies. And sure enough, there was originally a kiss in this scene, written AND filmed, but the studio made director Annette Haywood-Carter take it out.)

After one of the gang’s well-intentioned heists goes awry, Legs decides it’s time for her to move on. Maddy begs her to stay, says they’re her family, but Legs asks her to go with her instead. Maddy says, “I’ll never forget you,” and Legs has her answer. Legs laughs out a sob as tears fall down her face. “You’re in my heart, Maddy.”

The voiceover tells the bitter truth of it: the Foxfire girls drifted apart after Legs left, and they never saw Legs again. Maybe Maddy goes on to live her best bisexual life. Maybe she identifies as straight but when her kid comes out to her she says “I had a crush on a girl once too.” Maybe she tells the story every time someone asks about her tattoo. Maybe she never talks about that spring of her senior year, maybe she keeps it special between them, a secret they’re not sure anyone would even believe. It was just one season of their lives, but it’s one they’ll never forget.

Many of us had queer adolescent experiences that stay with us — the emotional equivalent of a fiery stick-and-poke etched into our skin forever.


Foxfire is now streaming on Paramount+.

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 548 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. I found the VHS of this film in the bargain bin of Blockbusters and smuggled it home like I was carrying illicit goods. Turned out to be one of my favourite film of Angelina Jolie’s. I like the characters and the depiction of female friendships. It’s kind of a like a darker, edgier, more intense version of Now and Then.

  2. I really need to see this again with 40 something year old eyes. I haven’t seen it since probably the late 90’s. I can never remember if I watched this first then Gia or vice versa. All I know is that girl changed my life – Jolie. Lol.

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