Foxfire Review

The USA, the 1990s. Maddy (Hedy Burress) joins in to defend her friend Rita (Jenny Lewis) when a high school teacher sexually harasses her. And so Foxfire, a gang consisting of Maddy, Legs (Angelina Jolie), Rita, Goldie (Jenny Shimizu) and Violet (Sarah Rosenberg) is born...

Joyce Carol Oates's novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl-Gang (this film version omits the subtitle) was published in 1993 and this film version arrived three years later. It marked the cinema feature directorial debut of script supervisor Annette Haywood-Carter: her second feature, Savannah (which I haven't seen) followed seventeen years later, in 2013. Foxfire didn't set the world alight, and it is remembered nowadays as an early lead role for Angelina Jolie. If you weren't familiar with the source, it's an average-to-fair teen drama, with one performance lifting it out of the ordinary. If you are familiar with Oates's novel, unfortunately this film betrays its source in several ways, something thrown into relief by Laurent Cantet's much more faithful 2011 film version, which I have reviewed here.

Oates's novel is set in the 1950s while this film, written by Elizabeth White, updates the story to a contemporary setting (shot in Portland, Oregon). However, aspects of the novel that might have felt too edgy for its intended audience. Gone is the novel's political dimension, with Legs in particular influenced by an old Communist and going on to discover radical politics, which Oates links to an emergent feminist conscious in one of the most conformist decades in twentieth-century American history. The novel and the 2011 film doesn't specify Maddy's sexuality and both more than hint at a lesbian attraction between her and Legs. The 1996 film from the outset gives Maddy a dramatically extraneous boyfriend (played by Peter Facinelli) and then makes an issue of it by having her take arty nude Polaroids of him in the opening sequence. The film follows the novel to the novel's halfway point two thirds of the way through the film's running time, before veering off into a third act involving one gang member's slide into drug addiction. The soundtrack is filled with contemporary songs in an at times overdetermined way (Shampoo's “Trouble” because, guess what, the girls are in trouble). And if you bemoan how pervasive the orange-and-teal look has become in Hollywood in the last decade, check out this early example, though as 1996 is too early for a digital intermediate, it's most likely achieved by Thomas Sigel's lighting rather than post-production tinkering.

Angelina Jolie is second billed after Hedy Burress, and it's clear who would become a major star and who wouldn't. It's clear to Haywood-Carter who gives Legs quite the introduction: starting at the feet and tilting up, Terminator style. Jolie gives Legs an edge that's missing from the rest of this film, and to some extent subverts the film's “straightening out” of its storyline. (Jolie and Jenny Shimizu were an item during the filming and afterwards.) It's for Jolie that this film is now remembered, if it is at all, and she gives an an otherwise bland and hollow film the interest it has.

Foxfire was not a commercial success and it went straight to VHS in the UK. It had an 18 certificate then, though nowadays it's likely more 15 material. There has been no UK DVD and the present US DVD is now thirteen years old, and that's not likely to change any time soon. There are certainly a lot of Oates novels out there, but she hasn't been an easy writer to translate to the big screen. (See also Joyce Chopra's interesting if flawed Smooth Talk from 1985, starring Laura Dern and Treat Williams in an adaptation of Oates's best-known short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”.) Cantet's film succeeds in this respect and unfortunately consigns this film to redundancy.


The DVD of Foxfire is single-layered, NTSC-format and encoded for Region 1 only.

Foxfire was shot in Super 35 and shown in cinemas in a ratio of 2.40:1, and that is the aspect ratio of this DVD release. You have to make some allowances for the age of the transfer, but it's colourful with solid blacks. There is noticeable aliasing in the places where you would normally see it, such as fences, radiator grilles and so on.

The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (2.0), but that said is quite active, with the surrounds kicking in with the music score and some directional effects. Subtitles are available in English (hard-of-hearing) and Spanish.

Angelina Jolie gets pride of place on the cover as she's the most marketable thing about the film. She is likewise prominent among the fairly basic extras. Her “talent file” is a text extra with basic biographical details and a filmography. The remaining extras are a trailer for Foxfire (2:00, in 4:3) and for another Jolie film featuring her Oscar-winning performance, Girl, Interrupted (2:34, non-anamorphic 1.85:1).

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