Angst, rage, and experimentation are essential components to a great coming-of-age story. In her early 90s period drama, Goddess of the Fireflies, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette delivers on these pillars of young adulthood with excess. Leaning heavily into the grunge aesthetic of the era, Barbeau-Lavalette delivers on the teen spirit that Kirk Cobain would recognize, for better and for worse.
Catherine (Kelly Depeault) begins her 17th year on the planet under less than stellar circumstances. Her parents cap off her family celebration with squabble ending in property destruction and at school she is mocked by the burnout crowd she idolizes. After one humiliation to far, Catherine becomes determined to fit in with the people she wants and drops some of her birthday money on mescaline. From that moment on, Catherine takes control of her life even if by doing so she turns down some self-destructive paths. The blur of sex and drugs that follows encapsulates the joys of life experienced by someone to young to comprehend consequences.
When dealing with stories about young people experimenting with sex and drugs, there is a fine line between preachy and glorification that needs to be carefully skirted to deliver the most effective story possible. Barbeau-Lavalette avoids either pitfall by not denying the joy Catherine experiences while high but also providing serious consequences. Her addiction to drugs is undeniable, but while her home life is crumbling to pieces her burnout friends offer her a needed familial support. They may use drugs in excess as an unhealthy vice, but her friends Marie (Éléonore Loiselle) and Keven (Robin L’Houmeau) have an undeniable positive impact on her life. Even when reality catches up to the group and the negatives consequences of their lifestyle materializes, Catherine can go to this group for support more than her parents.
The late teens is a time rife for finding oneself, and experimentation of all manners is an important aspect of this time. When capturing this age on screen, it is important to not overly focus on the result of any one experimentation. Growing up is all about the journey both good and bad. Barbeau-Lavalette wonderfully captures this nuance in Goddess of the Fireflies by putting her characters forward. Catherine’s highs and lows are given equal weight in the film, and while the climax offers a definitive answer as to the result of fully embracing the excess, walking down that path had significant positives on her life as well. The film acknowledges that a blend is always the most fulfilling solution when growing up.