Screening in competition as a finalist at Indy's Heartland International Film Festival, Radium Girls is a low-budget period piece based on true events from the late 1920's when teenage sisters Bessie (Joey King) and Jo (Abby Quinn) dreamed of faraway places while painting glow-in-the-dark watch dials inside the American Radium Factory in New Jersey. When Jo becomes ill, however, a darker truth is revealed as it's discovered that Jo is not the first girl in the radium factory to become unwell from their time inside the factory.
Bessie takes up the fight on behalf of Jo and behalf of the other women around her, becoming a powerful advocate while risking everything to stand up to the corporation and to the company that provides her family's livelihood.
Ginny Mohler co-directs with Lydia Dean Pilcher and co-writes with Brittany Shaw with the film attracting noteworthy support from executive producers Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, its powerful story and message unquestionably worthy, and long overdue, for cinematic treatment.
It's refreshing to see a film that so fervently and intelligently celebrates the female voice with Radium Girls co-directed, co-written, and co-produced by both established and up-and-coming female voices in the film industry while the film's largely female ensemble cast is strong across the board with both King and Quinn, especially, leaving a powerful impact.
Radium Girls had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the New York shot film received a warm reception and continued that festival's increasingly strong presence of female filmmakers. Mohler will be in Indy for the film's screenings at Heartland with planned post-screening Q&A sessions.
The allure of these jobs for young women was powerful, for the poor who could often be found in these factories a job inside the radium factory often resulted in changed lives in their family's survival during wartime. Radium itself had only been discovered itself 20 years earlier by Marie Curie, a relatively unknown yet seemingly miracle substance that had life-changing uses yet unknown risks.
Soon, those risks would become known in devastating ways.
While the script for Radium Girls becomes overly ambitious and largely embraces a more intellectual approach to the story rather than emotion-centered, the story's inherent drama and impact helps to create an emotional resonance as you simply can't help but be drawn into the power of these young women attempting to build better lives for themselves and their families yet, in many cases, facing physical ruin. The impact of this story would, at least eventually, change labor laws nationwide and, after the ending of this story, would lead to the establishment of OSHA.
A powerful story intelligently told with stellar work by cinematographer Mathieu Plainfosse and a tremendous accompanying score by Lillie Rebecca McDonough, Radium Girls is an intelligent drama with its revealing of a story far too unknown and yet absolutely unforgettable.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic