All This Panic review: a remarkably intimate portrait of female youth

For three years, director Jenny Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton followed a group of girls growing up in New York. The results are astonishing

In a scant 79 minutes, All This Panic sure covers a lot of ground.

Over three years ago, director Jenny Gage and her cinematographer husband, Tom Betterton, got to know two of their neighbors in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn, teenage sisters Ginger and Dusty. Intrigued by the young pair, the couple eventually became acquainted with the girls’ small group of friends.

The resulting documentary casts a wide net to capture the bustling lives of seven teenage girls as they navigate the highs and lows of growing up in a major city. The decision to focus on myriad subjects rather than solely home in on the sisters works in the film’s favor: they each evolve in wildly different ways over the course of the film, serving to highlight the sheer scope of how impactful this period of growth is for all youth.

In fact, the sisters don’t take center stage for most of the film. That weight is carried ably by Lena, Ginger’s precocious best friend whose dreams of making something of herself are constantly threatened by her deeply troubled family life. At 16 years old, she can’t wait to leave her dad’s house, with aspirations of studying to be a philosophy professor.

Ginger meanwhile doesn’t want to age. “I’m petrified of getting old,” she confides, clearly unsure of what she wants to pursue once school is over. She eventually decides on becoming an actor, but as the years pass it is made increasingly apparent that she lacks the drive to make that dream a reality – a fact that’s upsetting to witness as her family helplessly watch on.

‘People want to see you but they don’t want to hear what you have to say.’
‘People want to see you but they don’t want to hear what you have to say.’ Photograph: PR/Tribeca Film Festival

Betterton’s roving camera also drops in on Sage, one of the only African-American scholarship students at her prestigious Manhattan private school, who prides herself on being fiercely outspoken. “The teenage body is so sexualized,” she muses. “People want to see you but they don’t what to hear what you want to say.”

Rounding out the crew are Olivia, a teenager who openly begins to question her sexual identity on camera but is too timid to share her struggle with her loved ones, Ginger’s sure-footed younger sister Dusty and her best friend Delia. Finally there’s Ivy, a street-smart girl with a sense of self that belies her young age.

As far as backgrounds go, the subjects don’t share much in common; what unites them is the mix of excitement and fear they have for what lies ahead.

“The whole point of growing older is that you eventually find out what’s fake about you and what’s real – and hopefully move on with more of the real,” says Ginger’s father to his daughters long before they leave the nest.

Gage’s remarkably intimate portrait of female youth on the verge leaves you with a largely hopeful feeling that this particular group of women will make good on that advice.


Nigel M Smith

The GuardianTramp

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