All This Panic

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lena and Ginger in documentary All This Panic
"For many viewers, the film will require taking a step back, ditching assumptions and making a conscious effort to listen. It's worth it. These girls have a lot to say."

"People want to look at us but they don't want to hear what we have to say," says Sage on what it's like to be a teenager. Teenage girls, in particular, have a tough time. Where they get to appear in films as more than objects of lust, they are routinely trivialised. For many viewers, the film will require taking a step back, ditching assumptions and making a conscious effort to listen. It's worth it. These girls have a lot to say.

These are the panic years. Sage and her friends Lena, Ginger, Olivia, Ivy and Dusty are going through their final years of school and the first stage of what comes after - college for most of them, or straight to the angst of searching for a first job. The awkward self-consciousness of these years has often been remarked upon and perhaps it's this that gives them a level of insight rarely encountered in younger or older people. They talk openly and eloquently about their lives. Much of what they're going through also tends to be dismissed by adults - nerves about the coming school year, first relationships, parties where "everybody throws up" - but they articulate the meaning of these events to them, and give them a weight that makes complete sense in the context of their limited experience.

Are all teenagers secretly like this? Probably not. All of these girls are privately educated and come from very comfortable backgrounds. Part of the learning process we see them go through involves the discovery of their privilege and what it means. For Sage, as the only African American among them, there's also the shock of discovering that, in the wider world, white people are in the minority, something that makes her reassess her circumstances and the ethnic background she had previously associated only with her mother.

The girls have another shared difference that marks them out: they have all grown up in New York City, where a combination of good public transport and a liberal-minded culture has allowed them to enjoy far more freedom than the average American teenager. Rather than doing them harm - a few nights of unpleasant intoxication aside - this has allowed them to grow up at what seems like a more natural pace. Before they go to college, they are already used to looking after themselves and one another, and they've been able to do so with the safety net of nearby parents in place. It makes them seem much more adult in some ways, and less artificial in heir behaviours. In other ways, however, they are plainly children, which is sometimes delightful and sometimes makes them seem terrifyingly vulnerable.

A thoughtful, engaging documentary which tackles a part of the human experience we really ought to give more time to, All This Panic captures a moment in time full of fascinating hints about our future and the process through which we move towards it.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2017
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All This Panic packshot
What is it like to come of age in New York City? First-time director Jenny Gage follows vivacious sisters, Ginger and Dusty, and their high school friends over the course of their crucial teen years.
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