' ' Cinema Romantico: All This Panic

Monday, June 12, 2017

All This Panic

Jenny Gage’s documentary “All This Panic” chronicles the lives of seven teenage girls in Brooklyn, some of whom cross paths, some of whom don’t, over a period of three years, on the cusp of, as one person in the film puts it, young adulthood. The film runs a swift seventy-nine minutes, which isn’t too short but just right, evocative of teenage lives that when you are in them might often feel endless but when seen from afar, or after the fact, go by so quick. Those lives are often demarcated by certain life events, like prom, like graduation, and while those events are mentioned in “All This Panic”, they are never seen, merely gabbed about beforehand before ensuing scenes make it quietly clear those events have already passed, subtly cutting into their supposed societal potency. No, the epiphanies here are smaller, sometimes non-existent, perceptively picking up on lives that are still being formed, emblemized in the film’s most prominent visual motif, in which the camera allows these girls to come into and fall back out of focus in the same shot, over and over again.

Gage’s other prominent visual motif is innumerable shots of the girls in repose, often sun-dappled, smiling as if they are lost in a thought, or furrowing their brow as if contemplating something heavy, sometimes seen riding the subway, sometimes seen laying in the grass, sometimes seen slumped on their beds. No matter the circumstance or locale, however, each one is lyrical, a little like polished Instagram posts, which was no doubt deliberate and which I mean as a compliment, these girls presenting themselves to the world in a certain way when it is not necessarily indicative of how everything looks behind the curtain. Indeed, Gage favors cutting between confessional kind of monologues or exchanges between friends and more poetic interludes playing like extensions of those Instagram posts.

Lena puts on a birthday party for herself, partly as a covert, or maybe not so covert, means to try and get together with a certain boy. It does not go as planned. So Gage goes back and forth between a quixotic party scene and Lena’s after-the-fact examination about what actually happened. Olivia, who has only just come out of the closet, talks about that life-changing decision while Gage pairs it with shots of Olivia surfing, as if she is facing who she is head on when, in reality, she admits she has not even revealed her sexuality to her parents, is not sure when she will, and that she will have to learn how to “deal with it.” That last line, one of many earnest revelations peppered throughout, destroyed my heart, the thought that someone still, today, here and now, is made to think of being gay as something to be dealt with rather than merely Who They Are and So What?

Though Olivia’s parents are not seen, other parents are, not merely off screen apparitions but integral parts of these girls’ lives. Sage, who plans on attending Howard University, which makes her happy because she won’t be the minority, which is underlined by how she is the only African-American girl in this revolving cast, has a strict, if loving, mother with whom Sage frequently spars over matters small and large. Ginger, who speaks in the abstract about becoming an actor, spars with her father over her less-than-impressive ambition. “All This Panic” does not refute the parents’ perspectives even as it empathizes with Sage and Ginger’s dig-your-heels-in disagreement, which is born less of what’s best for them than youthful agitation, an ancient battle difficult to see from both sides when you are in the midst of it, but that “All This Panic” crystallizes by letting us look through the looking glass both ways simultaneously.

If there are central characters here, it is Ginger and Lena, the former forging college and the latter striking out for it, though perhaps simply because this is real life, one decision is not necessarily portrayed as so much better than the other, with both girls, as the film concludes, still searching for something, whatever that is, and thank God “All This Panic” doesn’t claim to know. The concluding sequence, with so much left unsettled but such excitement and apprehension about what is still to come, becomes a kind of refutation of so many teen movies, fictional or otherwise, that impress the absurd need to have it All Figured Out so damn soon. “All This Panic” just lets these girls be themselves.

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