Criticism

All the Real Girls

“Green’s incredibly insightful film offers an insider’s glimpse at rural America’s landscape: abandoned factories, deserted railroad yards, barren fields and muddy stock-car tracks, all rendered achingly beautiful by Tim Orr’s stunning cinematography. All the while, it paints a vivid portrait of the working-class citizens who inhabit these places. All of them, it seems, have regrets that threaten to consume them. Their only hope is to simply keep moving forward, never looking too closely in the rear-view mirror.”

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Love Hurts

Uncomplicated people grapple with complicated emotions in All the Real Girls

It’s tempting to lump director David Gordon Green into the same “voyeur-as-artist” category that includes the likes of Harmony Korine and Larry Clark. To be sure, Green’s work does share certain qualities with the films of both directors. All three filmmakers are drawn to stories about poor, uneducated residents of the rural south. All three prefer working with non-professional actors. And they all display a distinct flair for capturing on celluloid scenes of startling realism.

But it would be a mistake, really, to liken Green to either Korine or Clark. With his lyrical scripts and consistently impeccable mise en scene, Green deftly reveals the beauty in even the least appealing characters, situations and settings. Korine, on the other hand, seems to prefer merely magnifying the ugliness in a given situation to the point of revulsion. And while Green frequently relies on non-actors to tell his stories, his films don’t have the exploitative qualities that permeate those of either Clark or Korine. Green appears to do easily what many lesser filmmakers – especially innumerable film school graduates with lofty ambitions – fail miserably to accomplish: create authentic, intimate films that speak to more than a handful of viewers, without coming across as pretentious or self-aware.

With All the Real Girls, his second feature, Green exhibits the same directorial flair that earned him widespread critical acclaim for his first film, 2001’s George Washington. At the same time, he displays growth as a filmmaker, delivering a more linear narrative with less ambiguity than his previous effort. As in his first film, Green employs a languid, poetic and episodic approach to filmmaking that somehow never threatens to drift off into aimlessness. Once again, he returns to the hardscrabble environs of rural North Carolina, this time for an honest and extremely thoughtful examination of first love and the mixed bag of expectations and consequences that accompany it.

At the heart of the story is Paul (Paul Schneider), a self-centered 22-year-old whose boyish looks and natural charm have led to a string of one night stands and broken hearts; a fact that has caused him little, if any, remorse. Happy spending days as a mechanic at his uncle’s garage and his free time hanging out with his boyhood friends Tip (Shea Wingham), Bo (Maurice Compte) and Bust-Ass (Danny McBride), Paul has never thought much about the future, nor has he ever considered what might lay beyond the borders of his small mill town.

The recent return of Tip’s younger sister, Noel (Zooey Deschanel), who has been away for several years at boarding school, has stirred up several conflicting emotions within Paul. Happy to have finally met a girl to whom he feels more than a superficial, fleeting attraction, he nevertheless worries (with good reason) about the effect a relationship with Noel will have on his friendship with Tip. Also, the worldliness he perceives in Noel makes him question his own destiny, something he’s not fully comfortable doing.

But more than anything else, Paul worries about hurting Noel. For the first time, he recognizes the ugliness of his past mistakes. Unable to fully trust himself, he fears he may end up hurting Noel but inadvertently does just that by keeping her at arm’s length. As the two struggle to articulate feelings they don’t have the vocabulary to express, their passion carries them headlong into unexplored territories of desire, confusion and regret.

Adorable newcomer Schneider (who looks like Paul Rudd’s cuddlier younger brother) delivers an outstanding performance as Paul, a character who, outwardly, at least, possesses many unlikable qualities. Deschanel perfectly captures the trepidation of a small-town girl who’s dipped her toe into the world but is still unready to take a plunge. And with his fluffy pompadour and stylized swagger, Wingham effortlessly embodies the self-proclaimed biggest fish in his exceedingly small pond. Special mention goes to Patricia Clarkson, as Paul’s weary mother, a woman so fed up with her son’s irresponsibility her only option is to try and slap some sense into him.

As it explores the painful realities of first love, Green’s incredibly insightful film offers an insider’s glimpse at rural America’s landscape: abandoned factories, deserted railroad yards, barren fields and muddy stock-car tracks, all rendered achingly beautiful by Tim Orr’s stunning cinematography. All the while, it paints a vivid portrait of the working-class citizens who inhabit these places. All of them, it seems, have regrets that threaten to consume them. Their only hope is to simply keep moving forward, never looking too closely in the rear-view mirror.

(Appeared in Gay City News)

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