MRR Review: "Breaking the Girls"

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Sara, a college student who was slandered by a classmate, finds herself framed for murder by Alex, who initially proposed the perfect, untraceable crime.
2.5

MRR Review: "Breaking the Girls"

Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 82 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Directed by: Jamie Babbit
Genre: Crime/Thriller

Sara (Agnes Bruckner) is a law student who's barely keeping afloat financially thanks to subsidized housing and a job tending bar at a local watering hole. Fellow student Brooke (Shanna Collins) despises Sara because she's convinced she has the hots for her boyfriend Eric (Shawn Ashmore). One day Brooke catches Sara taking more than her fair share from the bar's tip jar, so she promptly gets her fired, which is the first of many dominos to fall for poor Sara in "Breaking the Girls."

Things go from bad to worse for Sara, who soon finds Brooke has managed to pull some strings to get her subsidized housing revoked. In a matter of hours, Sara has gone from struggling law student with a job and a roof over her head to unemployed and homeless. It's right around this time she meets rich girl Alex (Madeline Zima), who listens to Sara's tale of woe and suggests she could kill Brooke if Sara will kill her stepmother in return. It's a shocking proposal that a despondent Sara takes into consideration as Alex seduces her and the two become lovers. The relationship takes Sara's mind off her problems and cures Alex's loneliness problem. Things seem to be going well until a shocking discovery throws everything up in the air.

Not long after this seedy conversation takes place, Brooke is found floating face down in a swimming pool. The whole campus is abuzz with news of the murder, which draws the attention of tough-as-nails Det. Ross (Davinia McFadden). She begins looking into people who would want Brooke dead, a long list which includes Sara. Since so many students have already seen Sara and Alex together romantically, that puts Alex in the detective's crosshairs as well. Will Ross learn about the girls' plan to commit a murder for each other or will there be another suspect who could be the real culprit? With a myriad of twists and turns in the third act, the murderer in "Breaking the Girls" could be anyone.

"Breaking the Girls" is certainly not the first movie ever made to deal with two people who plot to commit murders for each other. The film almost seems loosely based on the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Strangers on a Train," and possibly to "Throw Momma from the Train," minus the yuks. The twist here is even though the two girls make a plan to kill, one of them remains very wishy-washy about it while the other has no qualms about murder at all. There's also the fact the two aren't strangers for very long, which seriously complicates the usual way this plot device works. The whole reason to murder the other person's nemesis is so the murders can't be tied back to either person since the two people are supposed to be strangers. Take away the element of anonymity and the stakes get raised considerably for all involved, which is why "Breaking the Girls" turns from drama to thriller very quickly.

Besides "Strangers on a Train," the film also invokes elements of "Wild Things," the drama starring Kevin Bacon, Neve Campbell, and Denise Richards. That film featured a somewhat-notorious steamy pool scene that's partially recreated in "Breaking the Girls," as if director Jamie Babbit is paying homage to all her favorite noir thrillers. Writers Mark Distefano and Guinevere Turner turn out a script that falls right into Babbit's wheelhouse, writing strong and ambitious female characters who aren't ashamed to go after what they want. Babbit has worked with these characters before, notably in "But I'm a Cheerleader" and several episodes of the Showtime TV series "The L Word." This version of those stock characters is taken to a bit of an extreme, which amps up the thrill factor and makes the film entertaining.

Babbit has a reputation for being an actor's director, and "Breaking the Girls" is no exception because she manages to get some fairly substantive performances from several of the actors. This is especially true of McFadden, who plays a homicide detective with a stare so icy it will send chills down the backs of viewers. Zima is also great as the classic spoiled rich girl who's extremely lonely despite the fact she's almost constantly surrounded by people. Antiheroes are common in today's films, but few of them are female and ambitious like Alex is. It's yet another new twist on standard film tropes that helps give "Breaking the Girls" its edge.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5