Screengrab from Catherine Forster's "We Shop" (2011).  Courtesy of the artist.

Screengrab from Catherine Forster’s “We Shop” (2011). Courtesy of the artist.

LOS ANGELES — Shopping is a mundane, ecstatic experience. Enter any mall that’s filled with sparkly goods and products and suddenly we feel like ourselves but amplified. This environment only exists to reinforce consumerism and our opportunity to make surface-level changes to our appearance. In Catherine Forster’s short documentary video “We Shop,” she follows Rachel Simone, an 86-year-old woman who has never left her hometown of Concord, North Carolina, and her granddaughter, Robin, a 40-something woman, from the malls to the streets to domestic space to reveal the nature of this feminine companionship.

Initially, the relationship between Robin and Rachel is unclear. At first it seemed like Robin was a nurse, hired to care for and spend time with this older woman. As the video progressed, it became obvious that they were good friends who came together for a type of best friend companionship; the two care for and look after one another. In reality, they are grandmother and granddaughter, but that aspect is less important than how their relationship manifests.


Screengrab from Catherine Forster’s “We Shop” (2011)

The video curiously begins with a cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” playing while the viewer watches Robin pushing Rachel around a store, possibly Target, in a wheelchair. Yet what is it that makes these two women “girls” rather than “women”? Is it because they indulge in shopping and going out to ice cream, something that is culturally more acceptable for female-gendered people in their adolescence?

This sort of “girlishness” appears one day at home at Rachel’s house while the two apply lotions and makeup.

“Your hands look young,” Robin says to Rachel.

“Well, I wish I looked young in the face; it’s okay for the wrinkles to be where they can’t be seen,” replies Rachel, laughing.

Screengrab from Catherine Forster's "We Shop" (2011)

Screengrab from Catherine Forster’s “We Shop” (2011)

From there, Rachel tells Robin to make sure that she is good and dead when she’s buried, and then relays a story about a relative of theirs who was in a coma but mistaken for dead. This relative was then sent to a funeral home, and placed in a casket; days later, she sat straight up.

At the end of the day, there’s always a reminder that this time they spend together is a gift. The intimate bonding rituals that happen through shopping, cleaning, applying makeup and lotion together, gardening, or even talking to the director of this short film, are things to cherish. In the case of this film, girls “having fun” is much preferred to sitting around thinking constantly about mortality.

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED Magazine and the Chicago...