Although this movie follows the line of numerous boarding school sex-dramas that have preceded it, director Lea Pool offers something unique to the audience. While it is nearly fifty years since the civil rights movement and the feminist movement in the United States, it is a sad reality that sexual minorities are still condemned for abuse and ostracized by peers and parents alike. While the headmistress of the school (who is rumored to be a lesbian herself) shows some empathy and understanding of Pauline’s turmoil, a majority of her mates make fun of her. From the director’s point of view, the approach has been a compassionate one. It is as if, the film maker is attempting to bring awareness among the audience about the difficulties faced by sexual minorities in twenty first century America. The director has to be commended for her detailed and passionate portrayal of homosexuality.
An interesting aspect of the film is its depiction of gender stereotypes, which comes across as very rigid. For instance, the film illustrates how the parents, school administrators, other students and the society at large erect invisible boundaries on adolescent sexual freedom. In other words, teenage girls in the supposedly modern educational institution were punished for deviating outside of their designated stereotypes. Such restrictions are applicable to boys as well as girls, as is evident from the film’s narrative. It is also interesting to note that the Headmistress Miss Vaughn and teacher Miss Bannet show admirable patience and understanding when dealing with Paulie’s frequent outbursts. Also, these ladies don’t hold any stereotypical expectations of the girls, with regard to their behavior, sexual orientation, etc. Miss Vaughn tolerates Paulie’s outbursts because she is cognizant of her situation and how she is struggling with feelings of not belonging, not being loved and her intense sexual feelings for Victoria. Having said that, Miss Vaughn and Miss Bannet, were also not spared from gossip, as their closeness is perceived by the girls as arising out of their homosexuality. Hence, there are plenty of instances in the movie where we see negative stereotyping of the homosexual girls.
There are some other merits attached to the film’s cinematography. For example, the film vividly and accurately illustrates how the home, school and the larger society imposes implicit restrictions on sexual expression. In other words, young girls in the residential school were expected to follow stereotypical roles that are decided for them beforehand. Whenever, they deviate from predefined cultural norm, they encounter huge challenges. This doesn’t apply only to the girls. Even the boys who befriend Victoria in the movie are shown to be heterosexual, suggesting that this particular sexual orientation is the default one. That these implicit social rules are conflicting is a suitable cinematic juxtaposition, as neatly demonstrated by the scene of the formal dance on Parents Day, where the girls’ behavior differs completely when they dance with adults as when they dance with their peers. Also, the viewer gets a feeling that the girls are putting up an artificial show just in order to please their parents and conform to social norms, consistent with their gender stereotypes. Hence, it can be asserted that the film accurately portrays the problems posed by such rigid concepts as gender stereotypes. It may also be said that if movies such as this are seen by more straight people, then the number of instances of gender and sexual stereotyping will reduce. But sadly, for lesbians and other sexual minorities, it is a poignant reminder that remedy for such rigid stereotyping has not yet arrived.
To extend upon gender stereotyping seen in the film, let us take a close look at some of the reactions of other support characters toward Pauline and Victoria, after their homosexuality comes out in the open. Through all this emotional chaos that both girls go through, it is Mary who lends a supporting hand to the troubled girls. Displaying a maturity and understanding that is beyond her age, Mary serves as the confidante for both Victoria and Pauline at a time of high drama. This kindness on part of Mary is all the more admirable given her own issues with her father. With Pauline’s mental stability ever on the decline, she does everything she can to redeem her friend. Victoria, on the other hand, treats the break-up in a matter of fact way, which comes across as cruel. Nevertheless, she is better able to adapt to the changed circumstances; although her sudden embrace of heterosexuality seemingly lacks credibility. The character of gardener Joe Menzeis (played by Graham Greene) also shows some understanding of the situation and tactfully advices and consoles Mary. He also does not seem to be a judgmental sort of person. Baring one particular girl, who mentions to Pauline that “So what, this is twenty first century!” is the exception to the rule. Most of her peers, sadly, seem not to have culturally oriented themselves with the times they live in and still hold on to a biased and distorted perception of homosexuality.