Girls Town
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJim McKay
Written byDenise Casano
Anna Grace
Bruklin Harris
Jim McKay
Lili Taylor
Produced byLauren Zalaznick
StarringLili Taylor
Bruklin Harris
Aunjanue Ellis
Anna Grace
CinematographyRussell Lee Fine
Edited byAlex Hall
Jim McKay
Music byGuru
Distributed byOctober Films
Release dates
  • January 20, 1996 (1996-01-20) (Sundance)
  • August 21, 1996 (1996-08-21) (USA)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

Girls Town is the 1996 feature film directing debut by Jim McKay.[1] It stars Lili Taylor, Bruklin Harris, Anna Grace, and Aunjanue Ellis in her film debut. The plot follows a group of girl friends and their coming-of-age during their senior year of high school in urban America. The screenplay for the film was mostly developed through improvisations among the four lead actresses.

Girls Town had its world premiere on January 20, 1996, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Filmmakers' Trophy.[2] It received a limited release in the United States on August 21, 1996.[3] The Girls Town soundtrack was released on August 20, 1996, by Mercury Records.


Four girls—Patti, Emma, Angela, and Nikki—are completing their senior year of high school and ponder what might be their last year together before they all go on separate paths. Emma and Nikki in particular are bound for college, while Patti is an unwed teen mother.

When Nikki unexpectedly commits suicide, the three remaining girls discover Nikki's journal and learn she had been raped while working as an intern at a local magazine. The shattering revelation causes the girls to realize they didn't know Nikki, or even each other, as well as they thought. They also begin to offer up their own stories of oppression by the men in their lives, with Emma revealing to the group that she too was raped. The girls band together to seek revenge on Emma's attacker, Patti's abusive ex-boyfriend, and finally, Nikki's rapist.



Workshops and preparation for Girls Town took place over a months-long period, while actual shooting took place within two weeks.[4] The film was shot in Hackensack, New Jersey.[1]


Girls Town received acclaim from critics. On review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an 88% rating based on 25 reviews.[5]

Writing for Variety, Emanuel Levy said, "Jim McKay’s striking feature debut, an empowering feminist saga that makes its points without being overly preachy, should appeal to young viewers, particularly women who’re likely to identify with the film’s strongly independent heroines.”[6] Levy continued, "McKay reveals a sensitive ear to the psyche and feelings of young, mostly working-class women who are determined not only to establish themselves as worthy individuals, but to fight against a social system that has oppressed them for too long."[6] Levy credited the "credible dramatic situations and authentic lingo, the film's two most impressive assets," to the dialogue that was developed through improvisation and workshops, and concluded the film "conveys effectively the sheer joy and catharsis in the girls’ reluctance to quietly accept their place in society."[6]

Roger Ebert wrote,

"In every high school there are always 'popular' students and various groups of outsiders. It is always thought better to be “popular.” One of the lessons of 'Girls Town' is that popularity is based on the opinion of others, while an outsider chooses that status on the basis of her opinion of herself. We see Patti, Emma and Angela behaving unwisely and recklessly in 'Girls Town', but we also see them growing, and trying themselves, and discovering who they are. It is a painful process--so painful, many people never do it. I would like to see another movie in three or four years, about what has happened to these angry, gifted friends."[7]

Ebert added, "the movie's qualities are in the performances and dialogue. We hear the convincing sound of smart teenage girls uncomfortably trying to discover and share the truth about themselves, and we sense the social structure of the school in scenes (usually in the women's washroom) where the three confront their 'popular' classmates."[7] In a more critical review, Chris Hicks of Deseret News called the film an "acting tour de force" but said the plot felt aimless.[8]


  1. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (August 21, 1996). "Girls Town". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014.
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet (January 29, 1996). "Films on Junior High School And a Farm Win at Sundance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  3. ^ "Girls Town (1996) - Jim McKay". AllMovie. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  4. ^ Murray, Angus Wolfe (January 19, 2001). "Girls Town (1996) Movie Review". Archived from the original on December 7, 2017. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  5. ^ "Girls Town". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Levy, Emanuel (January 23, 1996). "Girls Town". Variety. Archived from the original on April 27, 2022. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (August 30, 1996). "Girls Town". Archived from the original on November 18, 2021. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  8. ^ Hicks, Chris (October 15, 1996). "Film review: Girls Town". Deseret News. Archived from the original on April 27, 2022. Retrieved April 27, 2022.