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Good Girl, Bad Girl

When a vandal destroys property in a sleepy Puerto Rican town, a little girl sets out to find the criminal and become a hero. Her capture surprises her, and she struggles with how to enact justice on a person no one ever thought capable of evil.



Eleven year-old Pelícano lives a quiet life with her grandmother in the coastal neighborhood of Loiza, Puerto Rico. When she’s not taking care of her pet snake, she’s either watching detective stories on TV or combing the beaches for shells with her grandmother. But there is something happening in her community. Someone is destroying the food shacks near the beach, breaking into people’s cars, spray painting curse words on homes. Pelícano sets out to find the criminal so she can become the neighborhood hero and win the respect of her classmates who make fun of her. Pelícano is surprised to capture Lila, a fellow classmate, and a girl who has a very troubled home life with her father and his girlfriend, Yoli. Pelícano holds Lila captive in an abandoned building where she has buried her up to her neck in sand. Day after day, Pelícano brings her food and water and demands that Lila confess her crimes to the police. Lila refuses, stating that she’ll be put in juvenile detention and her father will succumb to the alcoholism Yoli always enables. Lila threatens Pelícano with retribution once she is free. Pelícano struggles with how to enact justice without being caught herself when a hurricane makes its way to the island. Everyone waits out the storm indoors, but the rising storm tide drowns Lila where she is still buried. After the storm clears, Pelícano discovers her mishap, and to save herself from blame, she uses her detective stories to learn how to frame the death on Yoli. Pelícano lies to the police and Yoli is taken in for questioning. Pelícano’s community and classmates finally see Pelícano as a town hero.


  • STATUS: Development

  • GENRE: Drama

  • LANGUAGE: Spanish

  • DIRECTOR: Nicole Elmer

  • WRITER: Nicole Elmer




Good Girl, Bad Girl will appeal to an educated adult audience that seeks arthouse and film festival releases. Comparable in style and tone are realist coming-of-age dramas such as Chop Shop (2007) and The Return (2003). Both films had successful receptions and received awards in various film festivals, and were much revered by critics.


Puerto Rico is a vibrant and dynamic place with its complex history expressed through its rhythms and people. I feel close to this island. I studied it in college, wrote an award-winning play about the Puerto Rican diaspora, and shot my first feature film there. So in some ways, Good Girl, Bad Girl is a story that found me one morning when I was beachcombing, and since then it has never let me go.

Good Girl, Bad Girl is a drama that examines violence in children. For as long as I’ve been a storyteller, I’ve had a fascination with human violence and concepts of evil, curious why we make bad decisions that harm others or ourselves. Film more so than literature is reluctant to examine the way children are as violent as adults. We cling to the idea that children are “innocent,” but anyone that’s raised a child knows that kids can be as calculating as adults, and worse when confronted with anger. Many films about kids tend to ignore this reality of growing up. Yet, I can remember times in my own childhood when I was violent: hitting the neighbor’s dog with a broom, destroying birds nests, and making fun of a handicapped girl. To any passerby, I was just a mean kid. Indeed, I acted horribly, but I was also suffering through my parents’ divorce. I missed my father whom I loved while I hated my mother, believing that she’d taken me away from him. I took out my helplessness on things that were also as helpless as me.

Similarly in Good Girl, Bad Girl I explore the violence two young girls enact in the culturally-rich community of Loiza, Puerto Rico. Lila vandalizes but does so from a place of suffering as she struggles for her father’s attention. Pelícano wants justice for her grandmother’s destroyed property, but bad decisions and anger on her part result in death. This story plays with expectations of what is “good” and what is “bad,” challenges those ideas, and hopefully makes the audience think about the complexity of violence in children. Who really is the “antagonist” in this film and can we empathize with her destructive choices? If we love our “protagonist,” are we also able to detest her at the end of the film?

I don’t pretend to answer these questions as I don’t have the answers, and I would not be a storyteller if I did. I only use them in my tapestry of storytelling, forever intrigued and beguiled by human nature, and destined to explore its infinity. - Nicole Elmer


The following short video are moments from two of my films: my first feature In the Shadow (2011), shot in Puerto Rico, and my thesis film, Las lecciónes de la lengua (2007). I chose these to show a range in style, as we start with a dialogue scene and then move into a more experimental scene. They also show how I am able to direct in Spanish. For a complete biography and filmography, please visit this link.


These photos are meant to show aspects of life in Loiza, Puerto Rico.