The Student Nurses
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Writer: Don Spencer
Cast: Elaine Giftos, Karen Carlson, Brioni Farrell, Barbara Leigh, Reni Santoni, Richard Rust, Lawrence P. Casey, Darrell Larson, Paul Camen, Richard Stahl, Scottie MacGregor, Pepe Serna
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 26.10.2016
Lynn (Brioni Farrell), Sharon (Elaine Giftos), Phred (Karen Carlson) and Priscilla (Barbara Leigh) are studying to become nurses and also share an apartment. But despite those communalities, they all have different issues to face: Sharon is assigned to take care of terminally ill teenager Greg (Darrell Larson), and finds herself caring more deeply than she bargained for. Lynn stumbles into the political activism of a Mexican group through the alluring Victor Charlie (Reni Santoni). Phred starts an affair with one of the doctors and Priscilla meets a biker she falls in love with, but both their relationships take unexpected turns.
I very much enjoyed The Student Nurses, a feminist take on what would probably have become the set-up for a more or less explicit porn film in the hands of a guy. Instead we get treated to four complex female characters and a sharp look at the politics of the 60s/70s in the USA.
The Student Nurses features four different women in their very different relationships with men, which is on the one hand wonderful because much to often, we get stuck with one or maybe two different relationships women can have with men, especially when romance and/or sex are involved. On the other hand, it is also my biggest point of criticism about the film: the foursome maybe different, but they’re all still young, slim, white (as far as I know) and conventionally beautiful – and the films are mostly about their relationship with the men around them and not about their relationships with each other.
Although, to be fair, their friendship with each other is a safe haven for the characters and the emotional center of the film. And the story never endangers that friendship or makes them question it – they’re there for each other as a matter of course.
The film also never judges the women for their choices as they navigate not only work and sex and love, but also abortion, racism, rape, and more. All those highly political topics are covered by Rothman with a clear view for salient points, showing the difficulties women faced at the time (and more often than not still face today).
The only thing that didn’t sit so well with me was when Phred accidentally sleeps with another man (it’s dark, she mistakes him for her boyfriend, he doesn’t see the need to correct her). Not only did it conjure up memories of the played for laughs rape scene in The Boat That Rocked, but it is rape, plain and simple. Only that nobody seems to realize it in the film.
But other than that, I really enjoyed the film and its feminist politics. It’s too bad that Rothman’s body of work is short, but I will be diving into it.