These days, the mockumentary style is often used for either horror or comedic purposes. But director/writer Amy S. Weber has something else in mind for the often overused format in the gripping, if occasionally less than plausible A Girl Like Her, a film that could be subtitled “Anatomy of an Attempted Teen Suicide.”
The conceit of Girl is that bright and bubbly high school sophomore Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth) is coaxed by her fellow student and photographer/videographer friend Brian (Jimmy Bennett) to wear a small spy camera all day, every day. He also uses his hand-held camera to paint a picture of her life.
But he’s not doing it simply for any budding filmmaker ambitions. The point is to chronicle the harassment Jessica suffers at the hands of the campus’ main mean girl, a hateful Heather named Avery (Hunter King).
This dovetails with a documentary crew showing up at school to film student life because the institution was just given an honor as one of the highest-ranked public high schools in the country. So, when Jessica tries to take her life, the doc being shot turns from being a celebration of excellence into an examination of what went wrong.
A Girl Like Her then is the cobbled-together footage from Jessica’s spy camera, Brian’s camera and the documentary crew’s cameras, and it’s a damning portrait of how parents, teachers, administrators and fellow students can be blind to the pain of someone suffering right in their midst.
Wisely, Weber doesn’t turn Avery into a monster. When the crew films at her house, the audience gets to see why she acts the way she does. However, it strains credibility to have her family — which seems to be all about appearances — begin to disintegrate so quickly with cameras rolling. As does the high-school hallway conversation with Avery and her equally unlikable friends in which they turn on each other. Would they really not tell the director to stop filming something that makes them seem culpable?
But these are small quibbles in what is a predictable but still powerful take on teen suicide. Ainsworth and King are excellent, anchoring what could have been a gimmick in a grim reality.
A Girl Like Her may not rank with Lee Hirsch’s 2011 award-winning film Bully — a real documentary about real students being harassed — but it still packs a punch.
Cast: Lexi Ainsworth, Hunter King, Jimmy Bennett.
Writer-director: Amy S. Weber.
A Parkside Releasing release. Running time: 92 minutes. Disturbing thematic material involving teens, strong language. In Miami-Dade: Sunset Place, Aventura, Dolphin; in Broward: Oakwood, Sawgrass.