PRINT April 1997


All Over Me

CLAUDE (ALISON FOLLAND) keeps a fun house–style mirror in the kitchen of the apartment she shares with her mom, the kind of mirror that makes even an average-sized human look like a stumpy whale. When Claude, a henna-haired fifteen-year-old who dresses in what can only be called husky sizes, and her blonde waif of a best friend, Ellen (Tara Subkoff), pass the mirror one afternoon, they fall into a mock-sex routine: Claude, in baggy shorts and tee, playing the butch dude, Ellen his/her femmy conquest. The girls start humping away, grunting and giggling at their warped images. Reflected behind them on the fridge door is a collage of model-perfect bodies, Claude’s warning to herself against binging. Later Ellen heads off to see Mark (Cole Hauser), her brutish boyfriend. Claude, who wants nothing more than for Ellen to be her lover (a possibility Ellen teases her with when she demonstrates what she and Mark “do”), stands alone in front of the mirror, watching her distorted self as she stuffs spoonfuls of “Ben & Jerry’s” into her ripe mouth.

These moments from All Over Me—even the clichéd, lonely-girl-pigs-out bit—possess edges heretofore unseen in the movies, edges that cut to the heart of female teendom and libidinal confusion. Thanks for such insight are due to the self-described “Sichel Sisters,” who collaborated on the film (Alex Sichel directed, younger sibling Sylvia wrote the screenplay), but also to Folland’s brutally clear performance as Claude. Already compelling in the somewhat similar part of a chunky, lesbian-leaning pubescent in To Die For, Folland here fills up the screen with the propulsive twitches and ambivalences of adolescence. She’s a clumsier, less conventionally cute Claire Danes (her scenes with My So-Called Life’s Hispanic gayboy Wilson Cruz only beg the comparison), or better yet, a girly River Phoenix. So awkward, so bruised, so true.

All Over Me is, of course, about Claude’s coming-of-age. It’s also about the intoxication of New York summer streets, friendships that revolve around an obsessive sharing of everything (music, single beds, sex confessions), and the ability of post-grrrl punk-pop to liberate a young woman’s heart and loins (with a big nod to Patti Smith as key forebear). Indeed, one of All Over Me’s finest aspects is a soundtrack dominated by rough, female-made songs from Ani DiFranco, Sleater-Kinney, The Geraldine Fibbers, and Helium, among others. The scrappy, atonal music and the singers’ alternately plangent, enflamed, and unpristine voices move the story of Claude’s yearning forward as much as any plot point. And plot isn’t exactly this movie’s strong suit. When Claude’s newfound friend and neighbor, unabashedly queer Luke (played by Psychotica’s Pat Briggs) is stabbed to death—most likely by Ellen’s honey, Mark—it’s the Big Event intended to kick All Over Me into drive. Instead, the twist feels mechanical, and is never fully integrated into the rest of the narrative.

No matter. The real story here is Claude’s evolution from fraught, masochistic “dog” (“Claude’s my knight in shining armor,” boasts the increasingly wrecked Ellen after Claude sticks her fingers down Ellen’s throat to help her toss up an overdose) to free agent. Someone brave enough to draw a line with Ellen, even if it means abandoning a friendship as familiar and well-worn as Claude’s battered sneaks. Someone who’s becoming at home in her body and being. Someone who gets to savor the thrill of kissing her new sweet babe of a guitar player/lover (a winning Leisha Hailey) out on the street in the bright light of day, as formerly murky tugs metamorphose into proud, sharp desire.

Katherine Dieckmann is a regular contributor to The Village Voice.