Being 14 is a French film with English subtitles that chronicles the final year of middle school for three best friends: Sarah (Athalia Routier), Louise (Najaa Bensaid) and Jade (Galatéa Bellugi). It documents the trials of their troubled adolescence, examining in close detail the events and experiences that test their bond while influencing their highly susceptible perspectives.
The film treads familiar ground in terms of conflict – each girl wrestles with difficult family dynamics, feelings of isolation and peer pressure, impulsive sexual urges and baffling perceptions of self and others. Unfortunately, none of these devices are unpacked in a way that offers any fresh insights for the audience. There’s an abundance of coarse language, but it doesn’t serve to reveal anything deeper about the characters. Despite this, all three lead actresses turn in fine performances and create the film’s best moments as an ensemble, particularly during scenes that show them in camaraderie or in crisis.
At first, Louise appears to be the most recklessly aggressive of the trio, but her development ends up having the biggest arc. Her blossoming transformation unfolds as she softens into the blush of first love with a boy who treats her respectfully. Unexpected and touching to witness, it’s a poignant beacon of hope for the otherwise despairing trio of protagonists. Sarah emerges as the central focus, aimlessly fumbling from one self-esteem shattering calamity to another, actively engineering the path of her own destruction. Jade is the most enigmatic of the three. While it’s clear she’s suffering from a damaged reputation regarding her alleged promiscuity, the script never quite reconciles whether she’s a victim of vicious lies or painful truths. It’s ultimately left up to the viewer to decide.
This feature marks 25-year-old Hélène Zimmer’s debut as a director and screenwriter. Scenes of house parties and silly adolescent horseplay are too often allowed to go on for far longer than they should, suggesting a tinge of romanticised nostalgia and prompting one to wonder whether she’s given herself enough time and emotional distance to tell the story objectively. Nevertheless, Being 14 is a worthy vehicle of promising new talent and a noble first directorial effort.
Being 14 is released in selected theaters on April 18th 2015.