“So I’m gonna bleed for one week out of every month? That’s a quarter of my life. What’s the point of living a life like that?” asks Bird, the protagonist of writer-director Dorie Barton's endearing debut film Girl Flu, after she gets her first period. Bird, played to perfection by Jade Pettyjohn, is particularly freaked out by the prospect of "becoming a woman" due to the fact that she has never really had much of a childhood. At 12 years old, Bird has spend a large part of her life taking care of her mom Jenny, who is a classic trainwreck. Jenny (Katee Sackhoff) is always hungover, selfish and never has anything to eat in the fridge except old yogurt. Bird has always been the dutiful daughter, until moving to L.A. and getting her period wearing white jeans in front of her new class push her over the edge.
Girl Flu is a coming-of-age tale with a twist, zeroing in on the awkward, messy parts of adolescence like bullies, mood swings and crushes. In parallel, the plot also follows Jenny's growing pains as she attempts to become the daughter, friend, mother and partner the people in her life need her to be. Featuring a stellar soundtrack (highlights include an acoustic cover of "To Sir With Love" at a particularly wacky moment,) Girl Flu also creates an authentic, atmospheric sense of place using the clear blue sky and suburban of L.A. Heather Matarazzo, Judy Reyes and Jeremy Sisto are all charming in supporting roles, but Pettyjohn carries the film with just the right mix of old-soul wisdom and wide-eyed naivety. Her first reaction, upon learning the extent of the effects of her period, is to visit the local health clinic to get her tubes tied.
While Girl Flu has its predictable moments, mostly related to Jenny's commitment-phobia and negligent parenting, the dialogue sparkles and Bird's trials and tribulations are almost too relatable. She is that weird kid wearing hand-me-down clothes and reading her book at the park, spying on a cute boy she doesn't even know if she wants to talk to. But this is not "just" a movie about periods; it is about a girl finding her way in a world that is not made for her. Despite the continued existence of taboos on the topic, the story of a girl getting her first period is a story worth telling. And Girl Flu does it with charm, humor and loveable weirdness.
Girl Flu is available on VOD.
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Molly McLaughin is a writer who likes pizza, politics and poetry. In that order. She tweets at @mollysgmcl.