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The Baltimore Sun

All Over Me


Friday April 25, 1997

     First-time director Alex Sichel and her sister, writer Sylvia Sichel, have said that their beguiling collaboration, "All Over Me," is their attempt to answer the timeless question, "How did we ever survive being teenage girls?" Alex and Sylvia, a playwright in her screenwriting debut, have proceeded with the belief that "everyone secretly knows their best friend was their real first love."
     Alison Folland's 15-year-old Claudia--called Claude by everybody except her mother (Ann Dowd)--and Tara Subkoff's Ellen live across the street from each other in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. Claude is a beautiful redhead, but she feels big and overweight in contrast to Ellen, an exquisite fragile-looking blond; the truth is that Claude is voluptuous without knowing it while Ellen looks borderline anorexic.
     In any event, they're best friends, with Ellen spending much of her time in Claude and her mother's cramped apartment. They have dreams of forming an all-girl rock band. (Patti Smith is a particular idol of Claude's.) Their friendship has so far survived the strains of growing up, but it's about to be put to its most severe test.
     Two things happen swiftly. First, Ellen has become caught up in a romance with Mark (Cole Hauser), who's a rugged macho guy. He's possessive of Ellen and a danger to her, and she has turned to taking cocaine to cope with the pressures of the relationship. Second, Luke (Pat Briggs), a very together gay man, has just moved into Claude's building, and he and Claude strike up an acquaintance immediately. In an ugly incident at the pizza parlor where Claude works part time, Luke stands up to Mark's crude homophobia--with drastic consequences.
     As this dark, slow-to-be-resolved episode casts a pall over the girls' friendship, Claude is increasingly coming to terms with the fact that her love for Ellen involves sexual attraction and that Ellen seems to be heading for bigger trouble than either of the girls can handle. The entire trajectory of "All Over Me" deals with Claude's self-discovery of her sexual orientation, her priorities and values.
     Folland expresses beautifully the vulnerability, pain, confusion--and gathering strength and determination--that Claude experiences in her personal odyssey.
     There's a raw slice-of-life quality to "All Over Me" typical of gritty low-budget New York movies, but the Sichels' vision, although admirably clear-eyed, is one of tenderness and compassion. Mark is a hateful guy, but the Sichels allow him to be the one who craves for warmth and affection beyond sex in his relationship with Ellen.
     Miki Navazio has composed a vibrant score, and music supervisor Bill Coleman has included songs by the likes of Ani DiFranco, Helium and Cornershop. Alex Sichel is just great with her cast, which includes Wilson Cruz as a wary gay teen and Leisha Hailey (of the Murmurs) as an appealing rock singer with hot-pink hair. If Sichel's pacing is sometimes ragged, it does blend in with the film's shot-from-the-hip low-budget feel.

All Over Me, 1997. R, for sexuality and drug use involving teen girls, and for strong language. A Fine Line Features presentation. Director Alex Sichel. Producers Dolly Hall. Executive producers Andreas Buhler, Stephen X. Graham, Nina M. Benton. Screenplay Sylvia Sichel. Cinematographer Joe DeSalvo. Editor Sabine Hoffmann. Costumes Karen Perry. Music Miki Navazio. Costumes Victoria Farrell. Production design Amy Silver. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Alison Folland as Claude. Tara Subkoff as Ellen. Cole Hauser as Mark. Wilson Cruz as Jesse.

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