The opening sequence shows a divide between the gentle, lavish and privately educated lifestyle of the wealthy, and the chaotic, harsh and publically educated environment of the poor. This classist motif reoccurs throughout the film. The lead character, Erica Yurken, is not from the gentle world of tennis and ballerinas, but the harsh world of graffiti and bullies. She is instantly drawn to the new teacher, Ms Belmont, who vows to crush the infamous 9C classroom into shape.
Ms Belmont ridicules the students for their poorly researched essays on Greenland. Alison is the only student to receive praise. Alison Ashley, the new girl, arrives. In contrast to the class' darker and mooted fashion, Alison is cast in a glowing soft light similar to the style use to distinguished private education in the opening sequence. Erica gives Alison the tour, discovering they aren't so similar in the end. Erica becomes anxious that Alison will overshadow her.
Alison upsets Erica by insulting the low academic and social standards of her high school. Later, Alison visits Erica at home and meets her family. Erica, embarrassed by her family and social position, invents stories about their "real" lives. Alison plays along. Erica walks Alison home but on the way is ditched by Alison for her other friends.
Lennie Grubb drives Erica to camp drop-off and tries to talk to Erica about his marrying her mother. The conversation goes badly and Lennie accidently tells Erica some hurtful truths about her father. Erica tells Lennie he will never be her stepfather. Alison and Erica are assigned cabins together, much to their annoyance. Erica and Barry Holis have a flirtatious altercation in the dining hall.
Alison suggests Erica has an original idea for a play. Erica gets to work writing a script inspired by the world around her. After realising she has stage fright, Erica is forced to cast Alison as her stand-in character. Barry defends Erica to the others. That night, Erica sits outside wearing Alison's kimono and is shocked by a kiss from Barry, unclear whether he knew who it was.
Erica overhears Alison on the phone to her mother and realises Alison's life might not be so perfect after all. Feeling sympathetic, Erica impersonates Ms Belmont to Alison's mother imploring her to notice her daughter. The plan backfires and they both get into trouble. Alison doesn't let her explain her actions. Erica decides she has to leave Camp Desolation and ventures to the next town, but is found by Ms Belmont.
On opening night Lennie Grubb gives Erica a pep talk, persuading her to continue with the play. After sorting out the props she is sent back to her dorm by Ms Belmont where she finds a hardcopy of her play complied by Alison. She realises all she has missed and goes back to watch the final act. Alison invites her on stage to accept the applause. Erica realises what she has to do and goes outside to find Alison.
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