There’s a moment in Jenny Gage’s documentary All This Panic, in which Sage, one of the film’s subjects, sums up what it’s like to be a teenage girl. “People want to see you,” she says, “but they don’t want to hear what you have to say.” Beyoncé may claim that girls run the world, but as the young women in this powerful new film tell us, teenage girls are hyper-scrutinized, sexualized, and not taken nearly as seriously as they should be.
All This Panic, which premieres tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a coming-of-age documentary for the Tavi types—a film that lets smart young women speak for themselves and gets everyone to listen. Gage and her partner/cinematographer Tom Betterton follow seven Brooklyn-born girls—Lena, Ginger, Dusty, Sage, Olivia, Ivy, and Delia—for three years, through the end of high school and the start (or non-start) of college; through smart and stupid choices; through drinking, drugs, and dating, as they each discover who and how to be.
Shot with handheld cameras and edited with quick cuts, All This Panic jumps between reverential portraiture and exposing vérité. The camera lingers and reveals. We see Lena bear the weight of her dysfunctional parents, and of her changing relationship with BFF Ginger, who herself struggles with her decision not to go to college, and instead starts hanging out with Ivy, the quintessential Brooklyn cool kid, broke and in love with an older guy. We watch Olivia come to terms with coming out, Sage explore her political identity as a young feminist and as one of the only black students at her fancy Manhattan prep school, and Dusty—Ginger’s sister—and her BFF Delia, the younger girls, watching all the panic unfurl. Three years race by breathlessly, and the viewer, like the filmmakers, are friends along for the ride.
All This Panic is not just a film for teenage girls. Its questions are those of adulthood, too: How do we deal with the strains of our family and our outgrown friendships? How do we cultivate a strong sense of self in the difficult environments we inhabit? How do we become a sibling, a friend, someone’s child? At the end of the film, Lena gets on a bus at three in the morning, embarking on the journey that is the rest of her life. Everything feels important. Everything is important. Reflecting on her “big kid” milestones, she considers what awaits her. At 18 you can vote, at 19—well, there’s nothing—at 20, you’re no longer a teenager, at 21 you can drink, and at 25, “your brain is fully developed, and you’re old enough to rent a Zipcar.” And eventually, run the world.