By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
TIFF Review: Dirty Girl
I put Abe Sylvia‘s Dirty Girl on my maybe list primarily because it’s set in late ’80s Norman, Oklahoma, and I am an Oklahoma Girl. I put it on my definite list when the Weinsteins bought it the other day, because love the Weinsteins or hate them, they tend to have good taste in their movies.
The film centers around Danielle (Juno Temple), the kind of girl your mother warned you about, the kind of girl you probably called a “slut” back in the day (or at least you thought to yourself when she passed you in the hallways). And yes, if you’ve heard of this film that it’s about a girl without a father who acts out sexually because of that, and chubby, closeted gay kid afraid to come out, it is.
But it’s less about sex and sexuality and more about the reasons why we make the choices we make, how making what could be perceived to be negative choices when we’re young doesn’t have to mean we settle for staying on a bad path forever, and how people tend to define each other by what they see on the surface without looking underneath.
There’s also a lot going on here about unhappy families, which are of course the most interesting kind of families (at least when you’re watching them, though not necessarily if you’re living in one). Danielle lives in a trailer park with Sue Ann (Milla Jovovich), her single mom, who had Danielle when she was, we’re given to understand, right around the age Danielle is now.
Sue Ann is engaged to marry Ray (William H. Macy), a clean-cut, blandly nice, if a bit disturbingly polite Mormon; what Sue Ann wants more than anything is to fulfill her dream of marrying a nice guy and having a stable life. She sees her daughter going down the same path she once did, and tries desperately to connect with her and help her, to no avail. Danielle rejects Ray completely and verbally lashes out at he mom at the slightest provocation.
The mother cannot compete with the ghost-father Danielle has never known, an imaginary Daddy on a white horse who, Danielle imagines, would have made her life completely different. And of course, from our perspective we can look at her and think that if her father abandoned her before she was born, he must be a real asshole of a guy, right? But that’s not quite the way Sylvia plays it all out.
As for Clark, he’s dealing with parents who don’t accept his homosexuality; his father (Dwight Yoakum) abuses his son but adores his car, and he’s threatening to send Clark to military school. Clark’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) is more supportive, but she’s afraid to stand up to her husband. Clark and Danielle are brought together when Danielle is demoted down to the “special ed” class for talking about sex … in sex ed class.
The unlikely duo are paired up for an class assignment to be parents to a “flour baby” (hey, I had a flour baby in high school!). At first they reject their mock child, but when Danielle discovers that her sex appeal has taken a nose dive since her demotion, she wants to get a good grade in the class to get out of it. But when things far rapidly apart, they decide to run away to California to find Danielle’s father.
This film could have been trite and contrived, but instead Syliva serves up symapthetic, interesting characters, gives them story and character arcs, and allows his story to flow. There’s a decided indie feel to the film, but it’s very well shot. As for the acting, Juno Temple is a delight to watch as Danielle.
She’s both tough and vulnerable, little girl and young woman, and there’s a scene near the film’s end when she strips away the character of Danielle the “dirty girl” to reveal the scared, lonely girl underneath, that’s quite wrenching. It’s a sudden shift in the emotional tenor of the film, guided with deft direction by Sylvia, and it’s moments like these, woven throughout the film, that raise it above the watermark of the same-old, same old, coming-of-age-on-a-roadtrip story.
Note: Dirty Girl was bought by the Weinsteins for a pricey (by current indie standards) $3 million during the fest.