Foxes May 20, 2017
Fortunately for pessimistic coming-of-age movie Foxes (1980), no problems arise in the making of realistic, sensitive teenagers. I can think of few features of its kind (maybe with the exception of Flirting  or The Virgin Suicides ) so easily able to take the thoughts and fears of adolescents and bring them to the screen with such capable three-dimensionality.
But unfortunately for pessimistic coming-of-age movie Foxes, problems do arise in the making of a succinct, effectively poignant storyline. For a film so adept at drawing convincing juveniles, it’s surprising that it seems so lost in the giving out of narrative arcs. Some characters and focused-upon relationships seem to exist within a separate, masterpiece of a movie, whereas some more obviously mirror a troubled soul and/or plot in an after school special.
I suppose what screenwriter Gerald Ayres is going for is listless naturalism, thrusting us into the lives of a quartet of teenage trouble girls and trying to show us as best he can how 15-year-olds think and feel and act. But the results are much too uneven to stir us effectually. There are some characters sketched out with nuance and sympathy. But there are others so thinly developed we find ourselves wishing Ayres were more concerned with moving us than trying to unwaveringly stick to the slice-of-life formula.
Foxes is set in the San Fernando Valley in the late 1970s, making for a departure from the usual white-picketed suburbias usually found in teen movies. Because the area, seedy and unforgiving, is an asylum for heedless sex, drug use, and incessant partying. Have a weak moral compass and you’re wont to fall victim to the sinful pleasures so painlessly found in the city streets.
Foxes involves itself with four friends, Jeanie (Jodie Foster, in her last film role before taking a four-year acting hiatus to go to college), Annie (Cherie Currie, in her film debut), Madge (Marilyn Kagan), and Deidre (Kandice Stroh), who appear susceptible to such dangers.
Deidre is a swinger-in-the-making who seems to live for nothing besides pleasing the opposite sex. Madge is pudgy, virginal, and without a hint of confidence, willing to do anything to garner approval from anyone watching. Annie, the daughter of an abusive police officer, wears her instability like a crown: she’s so reckless and so irresponsible we’re firm in our belief that she’ll end up dead before she reaches the age of 30 if she doesn't change something fast. Only Jeanie, essentially the designated “mom” friend, seems to have potential — her head is screwed on straight and she makes sure to let her friends know when she finds their decision-making strategies insipid.
Because none of these young women have responsible parents — save for Jeanie, whose mother (Sally Kellerman), in lieu of clearly having to grow up too soon, has enough of a backbone to get her somewhat far — they spend almost all their time together, staying nights at Jeanie’s house without fail and skipping classes as if it were their job. Thinking about the future doesn’t seem to be among their concerns. Only Jeanie seems to understand that fulfilling piggish desires rather than attempting to make something of oneself is eventually going to lead to some sort of ruin.
Ruin does start to befall some of these girls by the time the third act makes way, though toward its middle is focus lost, tragic impact not hitting quite as hard as it could. But the movie does contain a lot of memorable images and scenes, from Jeanie and her mother’s many tiffs to the way Madge finally loses her virginity and believes she's in love. Such sequences are so memorable because they never stoop to chintzy melodramatics. Lyne amplifies the sadness at the center and isn’t afraid to suggest that, even though we see a great deal of potential in these girls, it’s more than likely that they might not be any more successful than their mothers.
Which is exactly why I wish Foxes had a better sense of itself. Like its leading characters, it is aimless and a little misguided, and as a result we are unable to connect with its heroines as much as we would like. But Foster is luminous — as always — and Currie makes the most of a role which could be much more interesting if the feature weren’t so skimpy on so many necessary intricacies. C+