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    Wild and Provocative Breaking the Girls

    Jamie Babbit’s films—The Quiet and Itty Bitty Titty Committee among them—address strong female friendships. Her wild and provocative new feature, Breaking the Girls, now available on VOD, is no exception. It may be her most potent film yet.

    Sara (Agnes Bruckner) is a law student who tends bar. One night she meets Alex (Madeline Zima), and the two become more than fast friends—they become lovers. However, Sara may be pining for Eric (Shawn Ashmore), who is dating Brooke (Shanna Collins)—the very classmate who gets Sara fired from the bar that, in turn, cost her a scholarship.

    Sara copes with her losses by spending more time with Alex, who proposes—a la Strangers on a Train—that they swap murders. Alex will dispatch bitchy Brooke, if Sara can get rid of Alex’s annoying stepmother, Nina (Kate Levering), an artist. Breaking the Girls depicts what happens next, but it is best to let audiences discover that for themselves.

    In a recent phone interview, Babbit discussed her film, which features villainous lesbians. “My initial instinct in this film was that I’ve always been more interested in Wild Things and Bound rather than Liana, Claire of the Moon or Bar Girls. I am a Patricia Highsmith fan. When I saw Strangers on a Train, there were two great male parts. The female parts were lame and pathetic. I wanted to give those juicy roles to women.”

    Women do get the choice material in the film. Breaking the Girls uses conventions of the crime genre—women as victims; women as gold-diggers; women fighting against women; and women who desire a man—before the denouement, which is explicitly lesbian/feminist. Babbit is proud of this accomplishment, and suggested, “Gwen [Turner] and I thought about what Highsmith would have written if she’d been open about her sexuality, and not forced to write in coded ways.” Fun fact: Babbit included an homage to Highsmith in the form of a snail Sara keeps as a pet. (Highsmith, the filmmaker explained, had a
    pet snail, and brought it with her

    “Sara’s loyalty in the end is important to me,” Babbit revealed, although whom she is loyal to should not be disclosed. She continued, “One of the scenes in the film, which I initiated, is that [someone] in the end is gay. She will live a very queer life. The twists and turns enliven the mystique, and that’s fascinating to me—where it’s more dangerous to be gay. That’s my inherent interest in hidden sexuality.”
    The film’s super-intense female friendship drives the story. As Breaking the Girls unfolds, the actresses had to be clear on where each character’s romantic allegiance lies in a particular scene as secrets are revealed and betrayals occur at a dizzying rate in the last act. She praised one actress, in particular, who “remembered the context [of things] better than I did!”

    Since the drama depicts a series of love triangles that force two-plotting-against-one, how does Babbit herself deal with betrayal? She responded, candidly, “Life is full of betrayals, which is something I just expect. This is why I explore that theme in my films. That’s the cycle of relationships. People betray me in my life, but I’m still friendly with them. I’m a lesbian to the core! I’m still friends with all my exes.”

    The filmmaker admitted that she had two kids during a 14-year relationship, and is now with another woman. She is extremely out and proud. However, her characters are a bit more ambiguous.

    Sara’s sexuality is initially unclear, given that she doesn’t tell a flirtatious young man at the bar she tends that she’s not into guys before hooking up with Alex. Babbit said she felt that Sara is bisexual but, “She’s not really straight, either. She’s kind of lost.” She explained further, “I feel all the [main female] characters are queer. Originally there was a sex scene between Sara and Eric, and I didn’t want to film that. But I really liked the pool scene—I wanted the guy to be taken down in a titillating threesome.”

    The “pool scene” in question has Sara and Alex and Eric alternating kisses until the girls make it quite clear to Eric that they want him out of the pool to be alone together. “Poor Shawn,” the filmmaker bemoaned about actor Shawn Ashmore, who was in Babbit’s The Quiet before playing Eric here. “I keep putting him in my movies as the dupe.”

    Viewers may feel duped when they see Breaking the Girls as the film’s twisty narrative prompts a recalibration of motives and events several times before the end credits. But this “keep-viewers-guessing” quality is what makes Babbit’s film so deliciously entertaining.

    © 2013 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of the forthcoming “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.