'It's Friday night, I'm gonna get trashed." It's a young woman who says that. Women and binge drinking is the topic.
I've seen it, though not in Toronto. Perhaps I'm not in the relevant 'hood at all hours of the night. But I've seen it in Dublin and London. The roving gangs of young women in tiny dresses and heels, swaying, staggering. Some collapsed on the street. Others careening into the road looking for a taxi. All of them wasted.
Odd how some cultures feature the phenom. I was in Rio for more than a month and in areas chock-a-block with bars and nightclubs. Safe areas, too. Never saw the equivalent of London or Dublin. Maybe it's because there is an emphasis on going out to drink and eat. Food is important, not just the consumption of booze until falling-down drunk.
Girls' Night Out (CBC, 9 p.m. on Firsthand) is about women and binge drinking. It's a "deeply personal point of view documentary directed by Phyllis Ellis," as advertised. In fact it's so focused on the damage of binge drinking it's like a blow to the head. An intense, in-your-face public-service announcement. Subtle, it ain't.
The astonishing segments feature young women at university somewhere in Canada. They're 20 or 21 years old. And the doc chronicles their relentless drinking. The preparation for it, the accumulation of booze. The gathering of friends who drink and drink and then do shots of liquor.
And then, after that, they actually go to the party where they drink more.
At one point the young women talk about the injuries they've received – the visits to a hospital emergency room with cuts and bruises. Not that they've been attacked. They fell down, did something dumb.
The stats – about the situation in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – are alarming. Alcohol is the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 18 and 24 in the Americas. Alcohol is involved in nine out of 10 campus rapes. Nearly 14 million U.S. women binge drink three times a month. In Girls' Night Out, we see, literally firsthand, the casually outrageous consumption of alcohol at a campus party.
It's when Girls' Night Out begins the task of figuring out why the binge drinking happens that it seems less authentic and is more of a clumsy reach to assign blame.
The claim, in CBC's advance notice, is this: "In Girls' Night Out young women reveal not only how they binge, but why. The film explores the glamorization of drinking through celebrity pop culture, target marketing by alcohol companies and how excessive drinking has become the go-to solution in this self-medicating, low self-esteem, anxiety-driven culture."
What we get, and what I don't buy, is the assertion that Sex and the City inspired some women to overindulge, to go from one bar to the next on a wild ride of cocktails, men, more cocktails and eventually passing out. Nor do I buy the assertion that coverage of Rihanna in a nightclub, quaffing champagne and surrounded by good-looking guys, drives some women to overindulge.
Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget, talks about the archetype of "single, empowered ladies" and says, "Suddenly you were Carrie Bradshaw – you drank a lot, you had marauding sexual adventures. You're living the life."
Women aren't imbeciles and the suggestion that they are supervulnerable to the fictions of TV, movies and marketing is unhelpful.
The doc has harrowing accounts of women sexually assaulted while drunk. That's a more powerful warning than the limp suggestions about "the glamorization of drinking through celebrity pop culture." And there are good segments about women who are, through their work, obliged to spend time in bars and at parties.
Several women who work in PR talk about the ceaseless party-going that can be part of the job and the pressure to keep up, be funny and tipsy all the time. I buy that. The party circuit in any big city is huge and never-ending and drink-fuelled. Some women see the damage they're doing to themselves. Others realize it too late.
The truly informative and instructive portion of Girls' Night Out is the unfiltered footage of the young women in university talking casually about the parties they arrange, they stock with booze and, as some assert, they enjoy a lot. In those segments are hard-to-ignore assertions about women supporting and goading each other into drinking more and more.
Girls' Night Out is tough to watch. Unsubtle, as I said. And alarmist, with good reason. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. And yet its narrative requires more than easily made accusations about the popular culture's influence.
Also airing Tuesday
Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest (CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) is a gorgeous doc with breathtaking footage. The Wolverine is mythical to some and, we're told, much misunderstood. It does have the "strongest bite force relative to its size of any carnivore on land." Few people ever see it, of course. Here cinematographer Andrew Manske takes us on his five-year quest to find and film the wolverine. We end up in the remote corners of the boreal forest of northwestern Alberta, and, yes, the wolverine is seen.