All Over Me (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Welcome to Hell's Kitchen: a part of New York City that's not on many visitors' tour maps. Hell's Kitchen the quintessential inner city: no one has any money, crime is rampant, and everyone dreams of getting out. It makes a great backdrop for a motion picture, provided that you want your story to be set against a world of poverty, violence, and drug abuse. Since that's precisely what first-time film makers Alex and Sylvia Sichel were after, Hell's Kitchen is the perfect setting for their debut, All Over Me.

When we're growing up, all of us (boys as well as girls) have a best friend. It's how we survive adolescence -- having someone to talk to, share experiences with, and traverse the mysterious road to adulthood alongside. Many of these friendships don't survive, because, as we begin to unearth our identity and come to terms with who we really are, we often find ourselves growing apart from those with whom we were once inseparable. This issue is at the heart of All Over Me, a coming-of-age story that explores what one girl gains and loses as she fights to unlock the mystery of her true self.

At the center of All Over Me is Claude (Alison Folland), a slightly overweight, somewhat insecure fifteen year old whose whole life revolves around her best friend, Ellen (Tara Subkoff). But, even as Claude is beginning to recognize that her feelings for Ellen may run deeper than friendship, Ellen becomes involved with a local drug dealer/bad boy, Mark (Cole Hauser), and, suddenly, Claude's importance in Ellen's life plummets. To fill the void, Claude begins exploring new relationships -- a casual acquaintanceship with Luke (Pat Briggs), a gay musician who moves in downstairs, and a tentative friendship with a lesbian guitar player (Leisha Hailey). Through it all, Claude realizes that what she wants more than anything is to recapture her closeness with Ellen, but a series of events in Hell's Kitchen may make that goal impossible to achieve.

Part of the reason All Over Me possesses such a stark sense of realism is because of the keenly-observed, unaffected performances of the lead actors. Alison Folland, who attracted attention for her role as a troubled teen in To Die For, is exceptionally strong, realizing all of the angst and conflict churning within Claude. As Ellen, Tara Subkoff has a less demanding part, but is no less effective in it. Ellen isn't as fully developed as her best friend, but Subkoff is called upon to present a character trapped in a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. The supporting cast includes Cole Hauser as the irredeemably nasty Mark, veteran actress Ann Dowd as Claude's mother, singer Leisha Hailey (of the group The Murmurs) as Claude's would-be lesbian girlfriend, and Psychotica band member Pat Briggs as the sensitive Luke.

The setting and music of All Over Me play an important part in developing the story. These elements don't just function as background, but are integral to Claude's life choices. As uncertain as she is about her sexual identity, there is one thing she's sure of -- that she loves playing the guitar. Her dream has been to start a band with Ellen, but, when that is no longer possible, she is forced to consider the likelihood that their futures will diverge and that their irreplaceable friendship will become a memory.

All Over Me falls loosely into the same genre as last year's Girls Town -- entirely-believable stories of the troubles faced by girls growing up in a '90s inner city environment. Contrast that with Hollywood's approach to the same subject matter, as demonstrated in unconvincingly melodramatic productions like last year's Foxfire. The strength of this movie is that, with all the truth inherent in the story, it could easily be depicting the life of someone we might pass on the street. And that makes it very easy to care about Claude, Ellen, and what happens to them during a few short summer weeks in Hell's Kitchen.

All Over Me (United States, 1995)

Director: Alex Sichel
Cast: Alison Folland, Tara Subkoff, Cole Hauser, Wilson Cruz, Ann Dowd, Leisha Hailey, Pat Briggs
Screenplay: Sylvia Sichel
Cinematography: Joe DeSalvo
Music: Miki Navazio
U.S. Distributor: Fine Line Features
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Drugs, Violence, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1