Dirty Girl

27 Jan

Title: Dirty Girl
Year: 2011
Director: Abe Sylvia
Writer: Abe Sylvia
Starring: Juno Temple, Jeremy Dozier, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Maeve Quinlan
MPAA Rating: R, sexual content including graphic nudity, and for language
Runtime: 90 min
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Metacritic: 37


I’m of the opinion that Juno Temple is bound to break big sooner rather than later. After starting out with small roles in great British films like Atonement and Notes on a Scandal, she’s been gaining quite a lot of traction lately, she had a small role in last year’s superb Greenberg (which I gave an A to and was my 17th favorite film of 2010), and has been around quite a lot in 2011 with roles in The Three Musketeers (a C-), Cracks (a B), Kaboom (a B) and now Dirty Girl which is one of three final films I have to watch before putting an end to my 2011 Rankings. And next year she’ll keep at it, with a wide array of roles, most notoriously in Lovelace and, of course, the one that could potentially really get her to rise up the ladder, and fast, a turn as Holly Robinson, Catwoman’s sidekick, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

She’s the lead in Dirty Girl, the feature-length debut from writer-director Abe Sylvia, and even though this isn’t really even a good film, it’s Ms. Temple’s performance the one thing you can salvage about the ninety minutes of this film, which proves she can be good even if the material is bad. The thing about Dirty Girl to me was that it didn’t really know the kind of film it wanted to be, it was as though Mr. Sylvia was just absolutely unsure about the emotions he wanted to portray in his debut, showing a lack of confidence in the tonality that really hurt his material. As for those tones, it starts off kind of campy, like a satire, and it worked decently enough when it was that, but then it started to become this kind of quirky coming-of-age film that it was just way off, and the two tones just never really meshed at all.

Yesterday I saw the terrific Submarine (an A- from me), the debut from another writer-director, Richard Ayoade, and that film has everything this film doesn’t, it was a film made by a guy that was confident in his skills and made a stylized film sure about what he was doing, and if people liked it then fine, and if they didn’t then that was fine, too. Dirty Girl, on the other hand, feels like a film that just really really wants you to like it; it starts off acting kind of naughty for you to be kind of shocked about it, but then you’ll realize that at the bottom it just did so to get your attention and it’s actually well-intentioned. It’s difficult not to make the comment that it’s fitting that this is a film about teenagers with identity crises, this film doesn’t know what it wants to be either, it’s like a teenager who wants your attention and who you just have to put up with.

Also like Submarine, it’s set in the 80’s, though this time it’s in Oklahoma, where Danielle, the resident dirty girl of Norman High School, resides. After one of her typical outbursts of bad behavior Danielle gets placed in a remedial class, which is where she meets Clarke, who’s this awkward chubby kid who’s innocent of any bad behavior, except that his parents want him to believe that him being attracted to other boys is just that, bad behavior which he should be able to correct. The class makes them do one of those typical sex-ed exercises of having a bag of flour and pretending its their baby, and of course their relationship will start badly until they eventually start to hit it off.

The two then embark on a road trip to California, Danielle wanting to find her birth father (her mom, played by Milla Jovovich, is dating a Mormon played by William H. Macy who wants to marry her mom and call Danielle his own) and Clarke wanting the opposite, to escape from his dad, a homophobe played by Dwight Yoakam, before he ships him off to military school. So of course the road trip will be when this turns into a coming-of-age film, with the Danielle and Clarke using the experience to learn about their true selves as they find true friendship in the unlikeliest of places. And kudos have to given to Ms. Temple and to Jeremy Dozier, who plays Clarke, they make the very messy screenplay sound much better than it should have, and they, especially Ms. Temple, get us to actually care a bit about this characters.

This film is just too clumsy for me to give it a recommending grade, it tries to give every single character an arc that’s made only to try and get some tears from our eyes (it didn’t succeed at that even once, though) and the fact is that even though it would really want you to believe it’s soulful film, the implications it tries to make about the particular issues the characters here go through are quite stale, and there’s just not an ounce of confidence from Mr. Sylvia and no real insight whatsoever. And yet, like I said, Juno Temple is meant for bigger and better things, she totally saves the movie from being a train wreck, and even comes awfully close to getting it to achieve a level of decency; keep an eye out for her.

Grade: C+


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