The five girlfriends (or are they just acquaintances?) in “to.get.her” (pronounced as one word) all have connected through Facebook (or something that looks a lot like it) for a nice vacation (or perhaps something more sinister) in North Carolina.
Parentheticals are what define this Sundance Film Festival drama, which starts as one movie and turns into something different. Erica Dunton, who wrote and directed the film, likes to call “to.get.her” a “mystery, a story about five teenage girls who steal one of their father’s credit cards” for a night of “no consequences.”
But soon after their getaway, things start spiraling out of control — or are they really just going as planned?
Any parent knows that teens are full of secrets, but the undisclosed information the film’s five women carry is more worrisome than run-of-the-mill adolescent angst. At the same time, anyone who has a Facebook friend in high school knows that kids that age can share a stunning amount of data and feelings about their personal lives to a community of followers that may number in the thousands.
Dunton wanted “to.get.her” to address that seemingly contradictory gulf between private torments and public disclosure.
Dunton has known her film’s star, actress-model Jazzy De Lisser, since she was 12, and has watched her grow up over the last six years. They have communicated over the phone, through letters and in person. But some of the most telling information Dunton has collected about her friend has been through De Lisser's Facebook updates.
“The idea for the movie really sprang from being Facebook friends with her and watching her life experiences unfold in front of you,” Dunton says. “It’s exactly what you went through when you were 12, but how these kids interact with each other is so different. The fundamental things that make us feel stuff is the same. The way the Internet facilitates conversations about those feelings is utterly different.”
And, to Dunton’s mind, potentially dangerous. “There’s a naiveté — everything goes out online,” Dunton says. “And it opens them to all of these dark places.”
The five women at the center of the film, who are brought together by De Lisser's character, Ana Frost, are under all sorts of pressure and wrestling numerous demons — academic performance, sexual identity, drug abuse, the death of a parent. But they have no reference point to put their heartache in proper focus. “When you’re a teenager, you cannot have the life perspective. You live in a very black-and-white world,” Dunton says.
The film strongly suggests that when there’s no such perspective, bad decisions can multiply rapidly, like the flu spreading in an elementary-school classroom.
De Lisser (who has 943 Facebook friends) understands the advantages of social media, along with its risks. “You can keep in touch with everyone — you are always in touch with your friends,” she says. “But it hasn’t brought me to any dark places.”
-- John Horn in Park City, Utah
Photo: "to.get.her" writer-director Erica Dunton and star Jazzy De Lisser in Park City, Utah. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times