All The Right Girls

April, 2003, Drama

All The Real Girls

New York critics, (especially the crowd that covers movies for TIME OUT magazine) tend to have a weakness for small, offbeat releases made by emerging filmmakers, feeding a tendency among those covering all the arts to be the first to claim credit for discovering new talent. In movies, this tendency often results in over praising worthy but often flawed efforts, perhaps because the critic knows just how difficult it is to get a film made at all, especially one that's essentially the product of an as-yet-un-bankable talent. (The same is surely true for young playwrights, especially those whose work forms the bulk of the off-off Broadway scene, even though stage production costs are chicken feed compared to even the most modestly shot full length feature film.)

Thus the praise for Raising Victor Vargas a couple of weeks ago in the New York press and now this far less successful effort, from writer/director David Gordon Green, whose debut film George Washington 2000 developed quite a cult following when it was released a couple of years ago. Green has a flair for spot-on dialogue and pacing that suits his small-town tableau, but Real Girls resembles a work-in-progress more than a finished product, its scenes suffering by comparison with the episodic style of a Seinfeld episode. 

Talented and charming newcomers, Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel play tentative lovers in a small North Carolina mill town where the aspirations of its mostly white working class youth rarely extend beyond the fantasy of completing college somewhere close by. Deschanel's on the cusp of adulthood, and Schneider's already there, according to the calendar at least; a handsome and charming ner-do-well who lives with his single mother, he's drifted through life, (and most of the young women in town) without a thought about what who he is and where his aimless existence is headed. Knowing his reputation as a womanizer, Schnider's best friend (who just happens to be Daschanel's older brother) reacts with sullen, impotent fury at the prospect of his sister's imminent deflowering, thus destroying a life-long relationship important to both of them. Schneider loves the sense of intimacy Zooey brings to his life, but when she attempts to share that with him in return, he finds himself incapable of handling her candor and his jealous reaction to it. The remainder of the film is devoted to his struggle and her response, and the audience is left to draw its own conclusions about the ultimate fate of this less-than-star-crossed pair.

The supporting roles are well cast, and the dialogue perfectly captures the tentative bewilderment of young men on the brink of an adulthood for which neither their experiences nor powers of personal introspection have prepared them; unfortunately, all this results in lots of emotional sloshing around without much progress being made. Pregnancies occur, lots of booze gets consumed, and male bonding conversations about the meaning of it all recycle against a backdrop of accurately portrayed small-town blue-collar poverty. Unfortunately, all this doesn't add up; instead, its interesting bits and pieces, reminiscent of last year's Personal Velocity.

The verdict?  This one's an exercise in attitude and ambiance that doesn't quite make the grade, unless you're a 30-something and still wondering about the meaning of life.    

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