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All the Real Girls (2003)

Love is a puzzle. These are the pieces.

Directed by:

David Gordon Green

Rating: 4/10

Running Time: 107 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

In the southern milltown where he lives, Paul (Paul Schneider) has a well-earned reputation for serial womanising, so when he starts seeing Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the virginal kid sister of his best friend Tip (Shea Whigham), everyone, Tip included, assumes that he will treat her like the other girls. As Paul’s relationship with Noel intensifies, his relationships with others fray, and before you can say ‘All the Right Moves’, it’s another smalltown rites-of-passage film.

Yet as this is a film with indy-artsy pretensions (note the plangent folk music on the soundtrack), Paul’s painful journey into adulthood is offset by the lives of adults around him – his mother Elvira (Patricia Clarkson) and his uncle Leland (Benjamin Mouton) – who have tried to move on from their own tragedies in the past. For all the laziness of their southern drawl, these characters wrestle with big themes – the nature of happiness, and the impossibility, and undesirability, of going back – all underscored by ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘-style timelapse photography, and tied up at the end with an image of the town reflected in the eternally flowing waters of a river. In short, the film aims to be no less than a meditation on the vagaries of human existence amidst the irreversible progress of time.

However, ‘All the Real Girls’ never quite hits its target. While director David Gordon Green has a real eye for the lyrical potential of cinema, making this film a visual treat, unfortunately his script, co-written by the lead actor Paul Schneider, is an unfocussed mess, meandering from one theme to the next without ever settling on anything very coherent. The dialogue is at times inexcusably repetitive, and entire scenes could easily have been cut without significantly changing anything about the film besides its length. Surely a snail-like pace is not the only way in which a filmmaker can evoke the tedium of smalltown life.

On the plus side, the performances are convincing, and sufficiently nuanced to elevate the characters beyond mere cliché. Zooey Deschanel deserves special notice – although here she plays a radically different character from her recent rôle in ‘The Good Girl’, this versatile actress stands out equally in both films, and is destined, let’s hope, for much greater things.”

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It's Got: One character with the nickname Bust-Ass, and another with the real name Feng Shui.

It Needs: Some ruthless cutting

Alternatives:

All the Right Moves, Beautiful Girls, Kicking and Screaming

Summary

All the lyrical awkwardness of first love in a small town, unfortunately accompanied by all the meandering ponderousness of a country river.

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