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Kim Voynar

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.

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8 Responses to “TIFF Review: Dirty Girl”

  1. JENNIFER says:

    YES

  2. Claudia says:

    I saw this movie at the festival and LOVED it. Totally cried my eyes out. In a good way.

  3. Katie says:

    LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!

  4. Chris says:

    This is a Great Movie! Something around every corner. The BIG SCREEN Debut of a promising young Actress; Madison Meyer. http://www.IMDb.com

  5. Kathy says:

    Watching the movie Dirty Girl from behind the scenes being made was great! Each member of the Cast brought something to the Movie. The Director and Writer, Abe Sylvia, brings a great mix of Drama & Comedy to the big screen. The Sound Track is great. Around every corner you will find something new and exciting. You will not be disappointed with this movie. Many were able to see this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 where The Weinstein Company purchased the Distribution rights. Dirty Girl Opens August 5, 2011 in a Theatre near you. You need to go see it! A promising Actress had her Big Screen as the daughter to Ray (William H. Macy) Debut; Madison Meyer. http://www.IMdb.com

  6. elizabeth says:

    I was the Decorator on this film. NEVER, have I ever been so inspired by a project. Abe Sylvia, has heart, zeal and sensitivity to what is boldly stated in between the lines. He and his production team created a trust and enthusiasm with out all the Hollywood typical issues. If Abe or Rob Paris ever call me again, no questions asked, I am there!

  7. Paula says:

    Loved this movie….just hopped in Danielle’s mustang and went for the ride….Acted beautifully!

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

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