‘Dirty Girl’ is a fairly mundane coming of age cum road trip flick tat on paper has the right combination of talent on both sides of the camera that the movie should have worked or at least come across as an interesting little film. As occurs on a fairly common basis even a chef with the best of ingredients can have an off day and serve up cuisine below expectations. Think of it as an anti synergism where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The filmmaker is new but has potential and the leading lady is well versed in quirky roles that under other circumstances would have been perfect for this specific character. The main problem that occurred here is the movie fails to bring to the audience anything new. The majority of what occurs here has been seen many times before, typically in better fashion. Consider the flick grossed less than $60,000 even with the undisclosed Indy range budget the distributor cannot justify this movie in any realistic way. The familiarity is in the mixture of road trip and coming of age movie structured along the lines of a buddy comedy. Those of us old enough to remember the classics will inevitably set the bar with the gold standard of road trip movies featuring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Suffice it to say ‘Dirty Girl’ will never be placed in any enduring list.
It should be noted that several times during my initial viewing of the film I felt it was on the verge of pulling itself up. Unfortunately, it would try too hard and wind up sabotaging its own chances. The movie does have a few moments that glimmer ever so briefly but you have to dig deeply to find them. In an odd way the imperfections almost work in favor telling the story. This is, after all, a movie concerned with a pair of misfits, mismatched in every way. During the course of the movie they manage to connect poignantly with each other so that their insecurities appear to bolster each other. As the flick is concerned with inherently flawed and emotionally damaged people it would actually be a disservice to the integrity of the characters to present this tale in anything but an imperfect framework. The faults contained here almost seem to be woven into the presentation reflecting the internal disarray of the characters. The film is not the waste that some have made it out to be but you have to be able to commit to wanting to understand it in order to best enjoy it. This is not a light hearted comedy that you can casually watch. It will require focus and effort to understand the characters. This is both the film’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. In some ways it reminded me of an old favorite Indy; Hal Hartley’s ‘Trust’. Like that film ‘Dirty Girl’ depicts two broken people somehow coming together to complete each other. Hartley was just more proficient at getting this across than the filmmaker here, Abe Sylvia. This is his first feature film and while not completely makes me anxious to follow his career. Base on what I could see here Mr. Sylvia is a talent waiting to flourish. His steps here may have faltered to some degree but they are firmly on the right path. By the second viewing a gained a different perspective and felt I could begin to glean the filmmaker’s intentions. While the overall impact of the film came across pedestrian there were glimpses of a buried treasure lying just beneath the surface. Sylvia embodies the necessity of independent film by creating the studios would never support but necessary for his stylistic growth as an artist.
Danielle (Juno Temple) is a student in Norman High School, an Oklahoma community that is decidedly not a happy person. This manifested in the typical teen angst acting out disrupting the school and promiscuous behavior. Danielle is contentious, constantly arguing with her mother Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovich). This already turbulent situation is exasperated when Mom becomes engaged to a Mormon, Ray (William H. Macy). Right from the start this is an unusual piece of casting but I can see the director’s wisdom in going for it. Jovovich has built her career playing sleek, sexy super agile heroes so it is great to see her get a chance to grow as an actress into an emotionally centered role. To play opposite her no one could ask for a better opposite than Macy who continues to give fantastic performances. This odd juxtaposition on the adult front lays the foundation for the primary contrast of the film. Danielle becomes friend with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), the epitome of the term closet case. He is shy, socially awkward and sexually confused and inexperience. This does set up something that admittedly is overused in movies, social opposites. What Sylvia does next is toss them into the perennial cinematic crucible of transformation, the road trip. Here is where the narrative softens and something novel could have helped. Most of the situations are telegraphed to the audience. It will take additional viewing to catch some of the nuances at play here and regrettably the opening moments lack a ‘hook’ moment to let the audience know something worthwhile is about to unfold. I am certain that his subsequent works will better develop the initial scenes to rectify this condition. Once again a case may be made that the mundane substrata of the story belies a greater universal nature of the situation that the audience can relate too, Ms Temple is rapidly become a favorite for me has she works to own the ‘bad girl’ personae. Give ‘Wild Child’ a look to see what I mean. She projects a fragile core hiding beneath a tough façade that sells this role. Dozier nails his character playing off Temple’s lead very effectively.
Stylistically Sylvia is visually interesting in the way he uses he camera advantageously. He is developing a keen eye for the details of the sets using them to help resonate with the emotional thrust of the story. if only the elements could gel better this could have been a film that could win over the festival circuit. Take advantage of it on DVD since it does require a couple of viewings to catch the meaning but ultimately it is worth it. Just go into it with an open mind and willingness to se humanity in the missteps.