Girls’ Night

(Nick Hurran, UK, 1998)


The publicity for the new British film Girls’ Night seems to promise an unholy mix of Shirley Valentine (1989) and Thelma and Louise (1991).

The predominant image is of two women, Dawn (Brenda Blethyn) and Jackie (Julie Walters), decked out in outrageous wigs and cowboy hats, living it up in Las Vegas. And somewhere in this fantasy looms the crusty, romantic figure of Cody (Kris Kristofferson) as the embodiment of new-found adventure.

In truth, the sojourn in Vegas is only a relatively small part of the plot. Cody is on hand, but nothing much is done with him, either by the film or the women. In fact, this episode in the story has a rather muted, ultimately melancholic air. And as for the reference to the would-be feminist hi-jinx of Ridley Scott’s film, when Jackie suggests to her best buddy, "We’ll be just like Thelma and Louise", Dawn sheepishly responds with: "Who are they?"

Girls’ Night resembles far more closely two other movie genres. The first (very British) is good old-fashioned, naturalistic, slice-of-life comedy-drama. Dawn and Jackie work together in a telephone factory. They are both in less-than-perfect relationships, and so they look forward to their night out each week with their other shopfloor gal pals. Jackie is the more boisterous, libidinal and rebellious of the two main characters – although, mercifully, much more restrained than Blethyn’s similar character in the abysmal Little Voice (1998).

As in much British cinema, everything hinges on a dream of escaping this dreary, daily burden of backbreaking miseries and responsibilities. And this escape arrives in the form of an enormous bingo win. But Kay Mellor’s well-crafted script has not yet reached its true crunch: a revelation about Dawn’s deteriorating health.

At this point, Girls’ Night begins to resemble a modest, American-style genre: the disease-of-the-week telemovie. Director Nick Hurran is clearly more comfortable with the poignant, everyday story than he is with this burgeoning melodrama.

This film offers many modest pleasures, but it takes on more than it can satisfyingly deal with. Dawn’s family is caricatured and virtually written out of the picture; the romance fantasy in Vegas is strangely short-changed. Jackie, initially enjoyable, becomes as annoying as Fran Drescher in television’s The Nanny: all dirty talk and no action. And the deep, cathartic emotion that is meant to accompany Dawn’s personal journey never quite materialises.

Still, Girls’ Night is more impressive than most of the mainstream British films that manage to make it to Australian cinema screens these days.

MORE Hurran: Plots with a View

© Adrian Martin March 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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