A smart, sweet, and altogether smashing evocation of teenage girlhood, All I Wanna Do is based on writer-director Sarah Kernochan’s early-’60s experiences at Rosemary Hall, an upper-class all-girls boarding school that succumbed to economic pressures and went coed several years after she graduated. Kernochan has used the conflicts that arose from this proposed change of identity to focus her plot, but the liberties she takes with the ’60s time line will be evident only to those whose memories are as vivid as her own. Given the post-pill but pre-Beatles and definitely pre-counterculture moment, Kernochan’s young women exhibit extraordinary prescience when they occupy a building to protest their exclusion from the decision about the school’s future.
This quibble aside, All I Wanna Do is a teen movie that mothers might enjoy as much as their daughters. It combines the most inspirational aspects of sisterhood with recklessly abandoned, hormonally propelled behavior and a barfing scene that’s funnier than anything in, well, name your own favorite teen-boy movie. Here too, it’s the boys that barf, but it’s the girls that bring this embarrassment upon them by spiking their punch with ipecac. Not that these girls aren’t interested in the opposite sex; they just don’t want “to live in the shadow of the hairy bird.” The film’s original title was, in fact, The Hairy Bird, and the euphemism perfectly captures the pungent put-down style of its heroines; the generic All I Wanna Do, on the other hand, is indistinguishable from a hundred other recent titles and may doom this unique picture to a quick video release. The echoes of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Belles of St. Trinians notwithstanding, All I Wanna Do‘s combination of privileged upbringing and proto-feminist insight is almost without precedent. Its closest ally is the more broadly satiric Clueless.
A screenwriter often called upon to flesh out women’s roles (her cowriting credits include 9 1/2 Weeks and Sommersby), Kernochan uses her first stint at the helm to protect the subtlety and toughness of her script rather than to show off a distinct directorial style. I’ll remember a dozen lines from All I Wanna Do, but probably not a single image. That said, she maintains a lively pace and gets vivid performances from her young cast. The opening credit, “This is a film by everyone who worked on it,” is not only a deft swipe at the inflated egos of indie auteurs—a vast preponderance of them male—but also a setup for the creative interplay that animates the narrative.
Gaby Hoffmann, the real-life daughter of two ’60s superstars, Viva and Abbie Hoffmann, plays Odette (a/k/a Odious), the unusually sophisticated and brilliant new girl in school. Odette’s confidence and her collections of r&b records and Pappagallo shoes qualify her for membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Ravioli). The name derives from the attic supply room where this subversive group holds its meetings. The leader of the DAR is Verena (Kirsten Dunst), whose talent for exposing hypocrisy is taxed to its limit by the school board’s secret scheme to go coed. Verena’s similarly blonde but otherwise opposite number is Tinka (Monica Keena), whose ambition is to become a famous artist/folksinger/slut. As the headmistress, Lynn Redgrave mixes propriety with an admiration for freethinking. The girls of the DAR are more to her liking than the officious campus monitor (Rachael Leigh Cook) whose mission in life is to get them expelled. Jealousy, anger, confusion about sex, and the desire for revenge are not absent from All I Wanna Do, but sisterhood wins hands down.
Graeme Revell, who provided the sprightly score for All I Wanna Do, is credited with the grating, tone-deaf horror music that washes over Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s ridiculous and repellent hash of Repulsion and Psycho, with scenic elements of Seven thrown in for good measure. How two such attractive and talented actors as Aidan Gillen and Emmanuelle Seigner became involved in such a project is unimaginable. But given Hanlon’s evident infatuation with Repulsion, obtaining the services of Roman Polanski’s wife and long-reigning cinematic muse—and getting her to bare her exquisite, very French breasts—was a coup. Perhaps he has a talent for persuasion that doesn’t translate to the screen.