If you’re looking for a wholesome and heartfelt love story this Valentine’s Day, Erin’s Guide To Kissing Girls from Toronto Director Julianna Notten will speak to your inner tween, and your inner nerd.
Erin’s Guide To Kissing Girls was the film Notten wished she could’ve seen growing up, surrounded by love stories that didn’t reflect her idea of a happy ending. Fairytales would have a prince and a princess. Teen movies showed the popular boy falling for the nerdy girl. Never two princesses, or two nerdy girls.
But Notten also wanted to avoid making a film that would play into stereotypical queer narratives, stories rooted in tragedy or focused on the struggles of coming out.“I wanted to create a character who was confident in her sexuality without sensationalizing it, whose problems reached beyond the fact that she was attracted to other girls,” Notten wrote in their director’s statement.
13-year-old Erin is the only out person in her class. She lives for geeking out about comics with her best friend Liz, but when Liz gets accepted at a new school, and Erin falls for Sydni, the new girl at school, their friendship is tested.
Even in a seemingly progressive world, Erin deals with her share of microaggressions about her sexuality and is often isolated by her classmates. But her strong sense of self and support from true friends anchors her. “Ultimately, Erin is free to be herself and is accepted by the people in her life she cares about most, which makes this kind of representation unique,” wrote Notten. “This is not the kind of representation queer youth are used to seeing on screen, and that is exactly why this representation is vital.”
The film also excels at capturing how big and intense everything can feel at that age, from the rush of a crush to the sting of rejection to the new issue of your favourite comic dropping. “Being thirteen, everything feels like the be-all-end-all, and for Erin this is no different; she lives in hyperbole.” Notten doesn’t mock the characters (and by extension, the young girls watching) but approaches their experiences from a place of understanding and empathy.
“There is humour in the story because we can all relate to the awkwardness of eighth grade social politics, but it was important to me to still treat the feelings and issues the young leads deal with tenderness and care. It can be easy to look back and laugh at your preteen years with hindsight but when you’re in the middle of it all it is real and it is emotional.”
Films like this can be life-changing. Notten believes that films like hers can have a tremendous impact for the queer people watching. “For a lot of queer people, it’s moving and impactful to see a story like this because, even ten years ago, coming out was a dramatic decision (and still can be for many people). It was unimaginable to be a queer person Erin’s age and be out without facing significant negative consequences.”
For Notten, Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls is a love letter to her younger self, and just the beginning of their mission to create stories with queer and female protagonists who break boundaries and challenge stereotypes. “When queer women tell their own stories on screen, everyone stands to benefit.”
Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls is out in theatres and on-demand on February 3.