Sound — 9
While every young musician between the ages of 8 and 18 already goes through growing pains, filmmakers Shane King Arne Johnson opted to focus their efforts on an often ignored segment of that demographic: girls. Plenty of publicity has been given to the School of Rock organizations popping up all over the country, but the documentary Girls Rock! delves inside the Rock N' Roll Camp For Girls in order to chronicle the lives of 100 young ladies whose lives are changed over the course of 5 days. There's much more involved with this particular facility than your traditional co-ed music camp, with a strong emphasis on overcoming the stigmas attached with being not only a female musician, but a female in general. While it might not necessarily sound like guys' watching material, you might just find yourself rooting for the cast of characters/students (particularly the precocious, Sonic Youth-loving Amelia).
Over the course of 5 days, the 100 girls will form a band, write a song, possibly learn an instrument, and perform the finished product in front of 750 cheering fans. One of the most interesting aspects about the Rock N' Roll Camp For Girls is that many of the students have never picked up an instrument in their lives. That could possibly spell disaster if the primary purpose of the camp was to turn them into female Wolfgang Van Halens, but Girls Rock! drives home the point that these girls are finally finding ways to express themselves. It definitely has the feel-good movie vibe down pat, and the filmmakers could not have found a more amusing bunch of gals. Between princess-like Palace (who likes to write songs about getting rid of her principal and sometimes causes tensions in her band) and death metal devotee Laura (a Korean adoptee whose outgoing personality masquerades her insecurities), you can't help but wonder if these rough-around-the-edges youngsters will create onstage.
Content — 9
The main feature runs about 82 minutes, and it's definitely an engaging piece of film. If you can think back to when you first opted to pick up an instrument, you're likely to connect in some ways with the young girls. Even the discussions about body image and self-esteem are likely to strike a chord with anyone who has been to high school or middle school for that matter. You do see some familiar faces acting as mentors/camp counselors along the way, with Sleater Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and The Gossip's Beth Ditto lending their sage advice. For more insight into the making of the film, there is also a director's commentary.
Out of all the bonus material, probably the most engaging is the present-day look at a few of the featured students. We're shown interviews 3 years after the film was initially made, and there are some distinct differences in the children's lives. Let's just say that the hyperactivity has been toned down quite a bit. Other extras include a glimpse at the documentary Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl, featuring interviews with members of Bikini Kill and Bonfire Madigan. Also included in the bonus section are behind-the-scenes skits performed at camp, as well as a music video for one selected band of kids.
Production Quality — 9
This film was obviously a labor of love, but that doesn't mean that the quality is poor. On the contrary, there was an immense amount of editing, which probably was a laborious task given that the 24 bands rehearsed and performed for 5 straight days. As was said earlier, you will end up rooting for many of these girls, and that would not have been the case without solid storytellers behind it all.
Overall Impression — 9
Girls Rock! is not your typical music DVD, so you should go into watching the documentary with an open mind. There might not be your typical badass metalheads in the film, but give the young girls a little leeway. I was honestly surprised at the creativity going inside some of these 8 and 9-year-old heads. Watching Amelia experiment with guitar feedback or Palace sing something about sending San Francisco to hell are things that don't necessarily fit the stereotypical female standard, and it's refreshing to see that unique talents celebrated.