"17 Girls," an atmospheric but thin fiction, follows a group… (Strand Releasing )
Whether a group of high-schoolers in Gloucester, Mass., decided to get pregnant in the same year or it just turned out that way, news stories about them in 2008 focused on the idea of a "baby pact." That idea has inspired the atmospheric but thin fiction "17 Girls," the debut feature of sibling writer-directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin.
Picking up potentially provocative thematic threads, their reimagining of the New England scenario places it in their hometown of Lorient, in Brittany. They put the unfashionable French seaside setting to picturesque use, fostering a sense of mystery without bringing the drama to fruition.
Small-town boredom is a given for young residents of the faded working-class seaport, but the girls' paradoxical bid at independence via motherhood is presented as something bigger and more enigmatic than a reaction against dullsville. The accidental pregnancy of Camille (Louise Grinberg), the leader of a mildly rebellious clique, sets off a chain reaction of peer pressure and sisterly idealism.
Though the conceptions are hardly immaculate, the paternity of the babies isn't part of the equation. Neither is teen romance. These are the most fascinating aspects of the Coulins' telling, along with the girls' vision of communal child-rearing.
The film suggests a state of grace between childhood and adulthood, but the narrative feels increasingly tentative, and the characters remain opaque — "local divas," in one teacher's estimation.
"17 Girls." No MPAA rating; in French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.