Saturday 1 April 2017


Following a group of young women as they make the important decisions that will impact the rest of their lives, the vibrant and moving documentary All This Panic is out now.

Beginning with a scene of teenagers riding around on bikes, you could be forgiven for thinking you've seen this story before; and although there is a Spike Jonze/Mike Mills-esque "kids found in a skate park" vibe to the film, there so much more to it. Not an expose designed to shock parents, these New Yorkers manage to steer clear of Larry Clark's Kids territory and are much more on a par with the subjects of American Teen, although this film covers little of their collegiate life and is more focused on their familial relationships and friendships. They are both caught in a race to see who can be the most grown up first and feeling like they need more time to grow up. Fighting against the current and with the fear of being left behind, they embark on impossibly sweet first romances, figure out their identities (both sexual and societal) and have existential crises. It feels like a real life Lena Dunham story, as if the characters in Girls had a documentary prequel.

Filmed over three years as their lives undergo drastic changes and make huge choices, the girls we meet at the start of the film are hugely different to the young women we know at the end. There is a lack of outsiders in the film, instead choosing to focus on a group of friends with similar backgrounds. All of these young women have had a largely upper middle class upbringing, surrounded by their friends with top schooling and the freedom to explore many avenues, but it's the disparity between them that provides the most interest.

Although it is an ensemble featuring many interesting paths, Lena and Ginger dominate the story, largely due to them being the first subjects director Jenny Gage followed and best friends who go in diametrically opposed directions. Lena starts the film as an impossibly awkward teenager who throws a party for her friends with beer and cute little cupcakes, musing on her all so short life with statements full of naivety and confidence, like "for a long time I thought I'd be a philosophy professor, and for a long time before that I thought I'd be an actor". However, they've seen enough teen dramas to know that life doesn't always follow the best laid plans, and it's a joy to follow her progress as she blossoms into an incredibly strong and independent young woman.

Ginger is slightly more of a hellraiser; an outspoken and resolute firebrand who accuses her younger sister Dusty of "pretending you're Margot Tenenbaum", completely oblivious to the fact that with her own secret romances, artistic leanings and droll outlook on life that she's such a Margot Tenenbaum. Her path is very different to her friends', seeing the supposed four year journey through college as more time for self growth and to figure out who she wants to be. Her younger sister Dusty is one of the less explored characters in the film, but has a really interesting arc. Seemingly more emotionally together and grown up than her older sister, she is observing and learning from her mistakes in a way that only those with an older sibling can.

It's a beautiful, bohemian New York where the sun beams down constantly despite taking place over many seasons, and with such growth over a short period of time it feels as if it has an almost unreal and dreamlike narrative that could have been constructed. But, shot handheld and free as if director Jenny Gage and DP Tom Betterton were class friends on the same journey, there's a real intimacy and honesty on show that you can't fake.

The title suggests advice a parent would state to their teenage daughter after a dramatic conflict. "All this panic, and what's to show for it?" In this case, it's a thoroughly engaging coming of age story.

All This Panic is in cinemas and on VOD now.


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