Strike! September 8, 2022
Rachael Leigh Cook
1 Hr., 37 Mins.
trike! (1998) is slight but pleasant, redeemed by a charming cast and a writer-director, Sarah Kernochan, whose fondness for her characters and subject matter is infectiously clear. Kernochan was about the same age as her cast members the year the film is set, and that can make it feel like a labor of love — a commemoration of the person she used to be. Strike! begins in the fall of 1963, at the start of
a new school year. Our channel into the story is 17-year-old Odie Sinclair (Gaby Hoffman), who is sent to Miss Godard's Preparatory School for Girls as the film opens as a way to be “tamed,” in her parents’ eyes. They’d discovered that Odie, looking to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, was getting a diaphragm fitted, and of course thought of it less a cautiously safe way to enjoy a rite of passage but a symptom of the city’s corrupting power. Maybe New England will repurify this girl who considers this place little more than high walls occupied by lesbians.
Those dreams are immediately dashed. Odie takes up with a group of smart, strong-willed girls (including Kirsten Dunst and Merritt Wever) who refuse to shrink their desires, personal or otherwise, to complement the status quo. (They have their own club called the DAR — Daughters of the American Ravioli — because they meet in an attic space where lots of canned goods are stored.) The film follows their various escapades throughout the year — a big one their scheme to help Odie continue what she’d started with her boyfriend — like an agreeable series of sketches that give you a good sense of these girls’ personality traits but rarely their inner worlds or individual bonds with one another.
The film gets its title (though it also has been released as All I Wanna Do and The Hairy Bird) from the mid-movie news of plans to combine Miss Godard’s with a nearby all-boys school. To most of the girls, this is far more a cause for alarm than celebration. Socializing here and there with the opposite sex is good and fine, but the potential frustrations are what stick out. There’ll undoubtedly be more college-acceptance competition now; added pressure to look and dress a certain way; an inevitable move from being the school’s first-prioritized population to its second. It won’t be a simple case of integration, Dunst’s character notes: it’ll just be an imitation of life outside these walls, where the sexes don’t have equal footing but where “boy is on top of girl.”
The move eventually will come to a vote demanded by the student body, though it won’t arrive until about 15 minutes of the film remain, when word of the integration becomes official. The outcome feels a little anticlimactic, if only because Kernochan marshals what we think will be narratively crucial to the very end, and with a certain hastiness. Triumph has barely been relished in before Strike! has moved on to the next thing. It’s an amiable movie, but this last-act briskness epitomizes how Strike! writ large keeps things at the surface. B-