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Review: 'Breaking the Girls' tracks 'Strangers on a Train'

Filmmakers infuse their self-aware erotic thriller 'Breaking the Girls' with sly delight while keeping audiences off-balance.

August 02, 2013|By Mark Olsen
  • Shawn Ashmore, Madeline Zima and Agnes Bruckner in "Breaking the Girls."
Shawn Ashmore, Madeline Zima and Agnes Bruckner in "Breaking the… (Ryan Aylsworth / Myriad…)

Though not credited as a remake, "Breaking the Girls" takes the basic premise of "Strangers on a Train," the Patricia Highsmith novel famously adapted to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock — I'll kill for you if you'll kill for me — and transports it to the modern day. Law student Sara (Agnes Bruckner) has had a run of misfortune brought on in no small way by a jealous classmate, costing her a job, a scholarship and a place to live. She also meets the rich, troubled Alex (Madeline Zima), setting in motion a series of events to solve all their problems.

The film's screenplay was written by Guinevere Turner and Mark Distefano. Turner collaborated with filmmaker Mary Harron on the underappreciated "The Notorious Bettie Page" and the masterful "American Psycho." There's a sly delight in "Girls" as characters get the upper hand on each other, and the viewer is repeatedly wrong-footed, put off-balance by shifts in perspective.

Director Jamie Babbit first broke through with her satiric comedy "But I'm a Cheerleader" before moving mostly to television, working on a wide swath of smart shows including the recently departed "Bunheads." She and her screenwriters have fun throughout, flirting with making the film as a self-aware late-night-cable erotic thriller, as in the three-way make-out scene in a pool that playfully rebuffs the male fantasy of the moment.

"Breaking the Girls" isn't exactly a throwaway, but more an extended act of teasing foreplay, a movie that is fine for what it is but also never really shifts into something more.


"Breaking the Girls"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.


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