All The Real Girls Movie Review

David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls (the follow-up to his astonishing 2000 debut George Washington) exhibits the same gently lackadaisical rhythm and acute perception of human joy and misery that made his debut such a success, even as it charts new territory. A dreamy tale of the wondrous elation and sometimes terrible sorrow that accompanies love, the Sundance hit - about the budding relationship between an immature rabble-rouser and the sister of his best friend - occasionally threatens to devolve into laughable sentimentality. But Green's assured direction and two outstanding lead performances never allow this minor masterpiece to lose its course, and the results are a sumptuous romance that pulsates with the passionate ecstasy of the smitten heart.

Paul (Paul Schneider) is a local guy working for his uncle and living with his mother in the same house he's always called home, and his abundant sexual conquests have earned him a well-deserved reputation as a licentious heartbreaker. He spends his free time with a group of lifelong buddies, drinking and looking for his next female conquest. As one former girlfriend wisely observes, Paul's the type of sleazy good-for-nothing who'll never amount to more than what he is now: a drunken, childish buffoon with no ambition. His mother puts it more bluntly: Paul is "not educated, honest, or strong."

But beneath that callous exterior lies a surprisingly tender soul, and Paul's world changes with the reappearance of his friend Tip's sibling, a wide-eyed ingénue named Noel (the enchanting Zooey Deschanel) who's been cooped up in an all-girl boarding school since the age of 12. Despite the objections of Tip (Shea Whigham) - who's familiar with both his sister's innocence and his pal's history of thoughtless carousing - Paul and Noel are magnetically drawn to one another, and it's not long before their casual conversations evolve into heartfelt glances, stolen kisses, and innocent nights spent under the covers. The outside world gives way as the two - ensconced in a timeless small-town paradise of towering ferns, beaten down dirt roads, and quiet, still air - develop a blissful companionship, convinced that their feelings for each other are unique in the annals of history. Tim Orr's stunningly delicate, golden-hued cinematography seems to envelop the young lovers in a warm blanket of sunshine, protecting them as they float through life in a state of idyllic rapture.

As both a director and a writer, Green is uninterested in disingenuous clichés and poses, and his rejection of the genre's most hackneyed conventions comes in the form of unabashed sincerity. In his film's corny, love-struck dialogue - spoken with the gravity that comes from people wholly enraptured by their newfound emotions - Green captures the raw immediacy of Paul and Noel's exhilarating affair. The film stares directly into the face of melodramatic syrupiness, and doesn't blink; All the Real Girls transcends the corniness of its dialogue through the earnestness of Green's conviction. At one point, Noel gingerly tells Paul "I like it when you smile at me," and her words have the vulnerable honesty and the lyrical grace of a poem.

Their reverie, however, cannot last forever, and a disastrous decision leaves the young couple at a crossroads. "Just tell me what to do" becomes the plaintive cry that echoes through the still country air, but comprehension and consolation are not easily achieved. Green, having immersed us in the intense atmosphere of blossoming passion, doesn't shy away from the painful consequences that caring for someone frequently entails, and he makes it clear that Paul and Noel's despair doesn't exist in a vacuum. The film reveals a town littered with the walking wounded: Paul's uncle Leland (Benjamin Mouton), still reeling from the death of his wife, has vowed to never get that close to someone again; his single mother Elvira (an underutilized Patricia Clarkson), entertains hospitalized children dressed as a clown in order to alleviate her loneliness; and Tip learns a hard lesson about the ramifications of his reckless behavior.

Green is often compared to legendary recluse Terrence Malick, and his fascination with images of nature - a river glistening in the sunlight, a crippled dog hobbling along a dusty road - imbues the seemingly ordinary with a mythical import that recalls Malick's ethereal Depression-era saga Days of Heaven. Yet unlike his kindred directorial spirit, Green is keenly attuned to his actors' strengths and weaknesses and, in Schneider and Deschanel, he has found a pair of brave performers willing to embrace material hovering on the edge of preciousness. Schneider and Deschanel share an unaffected, easygoing chemistry that only grows more spellbinding as Paul and Noel's relationship begins to crumble under the weight of mistakes and regrets both past and present. Throughout, Green shelters their performances with steadfast grace and respect. In doing so, he has crafted a timeless portrait of two individuals' awkward, euphoric first encounter with love.

Bedheads.

Comments

All The Real Girls Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2003

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