All The Real Girls

on February 14, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
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In "All the Real Girls," writer/director David Gordon Green ("George Washington") has crafted an incredibly real story about first love--not just realistic, but real--and a heart-breaking but unyielding portrait of what happens when that emotional purity inevitably falls apart.

Set in a North Carolina mill town, where the verdant natural surroundings and even the gushing smokestacks bathed in golden light contrast sharply with the ugly reality of a life of poverty and broken dreams, "Girls" stars Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel as Paul and Noel, a couple whose nascent relationship vexes her older brother, with whom Paul has established a reputation as player. Yet he insists it's different this time with Noel, who has just returned from boarding school--he's really in love. Because the viewer never sees Paul's previous history, like Noel, they must resolve what he tells them and how he makes them feel with everyone else's opinion on the matter.

The courtship is a sweet, tender one, the couple's affectionate exchanges ranging from "Did you fart?" to trusting confessions of their deepest, darkest secrets. Green's dialogue is realistic, overlapping and sometimes nonsensical, as these young people are unable to express or explain themselves. Meanwhile, as evidenced by the picture's opening scene, the camera often is static. Employing long takes and few cuts, Green relies on the acting to create the film's emotional power. But often, too, the film can be gently funny, such as Paul dressing up as a clown as a favor to his mother and his attempt to enter her junker into a car race.

But perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that it doesn't flinch when things go wrong and doesn't tack on a storybook ending. Paul says, "If anyone ever smiles at me again, I'll freak out." It's in these moments of heartbreak that "All the Real Girls" is at its most real. Starring Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Clarkson, Shea Whigham, Danny McBride and Ben Mouton. Directed and written by David Gordon Green. Produced by Jean Doumanian and Lisa Muskat. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 105 min

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