Our Ladies, now streaming on BMS Stream, could have gone terribly south. But director Michael Caton-James ensures the film never becomes sermonising or gross.
Last Updated: 09.27 AM, Jan 14, 2022
A group of teenage girls are selected to participate in a music competition taking place in Edinburg. For them, this seems to be the only chance to escape their “town” to immerse themselves in unfettered debauchery.
There is something infinitely liberating about watching people having unbridled fun on screen. For the young adult viewers, it is aspirational. For others, it is a nostalgia-inducing ride that reminds you of your own years of irrational and wild abandon. Our Ladies counts among the many YA movies of recent years, most notably Moxie, that are as audacious and ground-breaking as pure fun.
The film about teenage girls with raging hormones, directed by a cis-het man, could have gone tragically south. The film, after all, is about young women wanting to have sex with other desirable young people. But director Michael Caton-Jones is careful enough to not oversexualise these women. Instead, it’s the perspective of these women, whose sexualities have been repressed by the Catholic upbringing, that he is far more interested in showcasing. From petty fights to jealousy over others’ relative priviliedged lives, Our Ladies narrates its tale with a naivety and wide-eyed wonder that makes the viewers empathise with the characters rather than chastise them. The film does not shame its women for their language, their abrasiveness and most importantly, their sexual desires.
It is a bonafide YA film, so the filmmaker erases any shred of real-world dangers that might lurk around. By obliterating the petrifying what-ifs, Our Ladies is able to squarely focus on the ladies of the film and their coming-of-age.
The film is firmly foregrounded in 1996, the era before social media and mobile phones dictated our very beings. The lack of access to the interwebz also establishes why these women are desperate to break free, even if for a short period of time. So we follow Orla (Tallulah Greive), Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie), Kayla (Marli Siu), Manda (Sally Messham) and Chell (Rona Morison) as they break every rule in the book to try out whatever their naïve and restless heart’s desire. There is also Kay (Eve Austin), who is visibly more privileged than the rest of her peers and is thus frequently the subject of others envy.
While Orla is the narrator and the emotional anchor of the group, all the characters are treated with as much care and delicateness as Orla. She is a cancer survivor, but begs to be not patronised or treated with pity. Finnoula, who is the de-facto mother hen of the group and Manda, her best friend, have troubles navigating their decade-long friendship as they discover their own identities while undertaking this big city adventure. Kayla is a singer who craves to be recognised for her talent, and break away from the band, and Chell is grappling with the grief of losing her father. The adventure proves to be a catalyst for change, as they re-evaluate their interpersonal bonds and their antagonism towards Kay.
The screenplay, co-written by Jones and Alan Sharp, is tight and whip-smart. There is not a moment when the film slackens its pace. The characters are worth investing into, even when they decisions are questionable. The sweeping mountains, the gigantic school premises, Catholic nuns preaching about an astute lifestyle will sure remind one of Hollywood’s cult classic The Sound of Music. But the rebellion of Our Ladies is not tempered with gooey wholesomeness. It is brazen and unapologetic, much like the characters of this movie.
Our Ladies is an honest, well-acted teenage drama that is as fun as it is profound. There is enough optimism to make it a breeze, but the raucous humour is what keeps the film thoroughly engaging.