imageSome of the finest ever Hollywood filmmakers have hailed from Europe, with the likes of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, to name just two, managing to bring their cultural sensibilities and ingenuity to Tinsel Town, embracing the Hollywood romanticism yet always remaining faithful to their roots. Another filmmaker hoping to join that exclusive list is Laurent Cantet, with his debut English speaking picture Foxfire – his first directorial outing since the Palme d’Or winning The Class. No pressure, eh?

Set in 1950s upstate New York, Foxfire is an adaptation of the renowned Joyce Carol Oates novel, a novel that has already been interpreted on screen, in the 1996 attempt starring Angelina Jolie in the lead role of Legs. In this instance, such a role is taken by Raven Adamson, playing the ringleader in a compulsive and anarchist group of young girls, forming a gang called Foxfire and rebelling against an ultimately sexist society. Alongside fellow members Maddy (Katie Coseni) and Rita (Madeleine Bisson), the girls watch on as they grow in numbers, as this ambitious project soon turns into a reality, though they must be cautious to remain faithful to their beliefs and not let matters get out of hand.

Unlike The Class, Foxfire feels much more like a conventional piece of cinema, less naturalistic and more contrived in certain areas. Meanwhile the lead characters are all rather annoying, particularly Legs, who is full of self-entitlement, with an irritating feeling of invincibility, causing the group to be over anarchic, and while at some points it’s completely merited, at others it’s needless. However these shortcomings from within the group humanises them somewhat, as although they are fighting for a worthy cause, we are aware of the flaws in their attitude, and the naivety in much of their actions. Cantet ensures that their physical fragility is always clear too, and no matter how impassioned they may feel, the majority are just young girls, and their confidence is often dampened by the endearing vulnerability to their demeanour.

That is nothing against the performances, as Adamson shines in the lead role, as a real talent to look out for. However Legs doesn’t feel like the natural protagonist, as she is the pre-existing ringleader. We could benefit from exploring Foxfire from a new recruit’s perspective, learning about this from an innocent, outside source. However we don’t truly have that character and instead the emphasis is shared amongst the group, taking away much chance of emotional investment. We don’t really see enough of the negative wrongdoings against the girls prior to them forming Foxfire either, as although we appreciate the nature of society from such a time, we don’t see enough to warrant pushing them into such circumstances and then retaliating against society so violently. Where Cantet fully excels, however, is within his subtle portrayal of the era, never overbearing or falling into stereotypes. It’s fascinating to see a 50s New York through the eyes of a foreigner, proving to be of great benefit as we see a different America to that of which we have seen depicted on screen before.

Though the pacing is questionable, and the run time far too long, with an array of powerful scenes and wonderful performances, Foxfire is a worthy Hollywood endeavour for Cantet – though if he wants a second shot at winning the Palme d’Or again, he may have to provide something a little more innovative and less tedious than this particularly offering.