Watching Ebert: All the Real Girls (Green, 2003)
This is the next in a series of reviews of films Roger Ebert has given four stars to between the years of 1967 and 2007, inspired by his book, Roger Ebert’s Four Star Reviews.
During (500) Days of Summer, my mind kept flashing to another indie flick about love starring Zooey Deschanel, David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls. Unlike (500) Days of Summer, it doesn’t play with cliches or flirt with surrealism to touch the audience; instead, it uses beautiful writing, understated performances, and delicate direction by Green to create a world that is unique and cinematic yet feels like home. Often times, critics use the expression “taken to another world” when describing a film experience that fully transports them into an unfamiliar place. Here, Green transports us to small North Carolina town that avoids all of the usual trappings of the Hollywood depictions of Southern towns, and gives us a budding romance between two normal characters where love is manifested without sex. All The Real Girls feels… real.
Paul (Paul Schneider) is a young man who lives in a small Southern town with his mom (Patricia Clarkson), fixing cars for his uncle’s business, hanging out with his drinking buddies, and sleeping with every girl in the area. However, he’s getting to that age where he thinks he might be ready to try something new– his friends mock this sentiment, saying he’ll never change. Soon, Paul meets Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the teenage sister of his best friend Tip (Shea Wigham). Noel is kind, smart, and a virgin: three traits Paul isn’t sure how to deal with. He treats her virginity as an opportunity to become a better man, and wait until they’ve grown together as a couple before sleeping with her. The movie tracks this journey, and how his relationship with Noel affects his friendships with Tip and his other friends, Bo (Maurice Compte) and Bust-Ass (the film debut of Eastbound & Down star Danny McBride).
The movie takes a slow pace to match the pace of living in this town. We get a perfect idea of what it’s like to live there– the buildings, the local bars, the walks home from work, the fields for drinking and hanging out in, the ever-present trees dotting the skyline of the town, and the interiors of small houses where people live and love with their families. It’s as if you’ve lived there your whole life– Green creates this feeling of home in the first few minutes. So often, films in the South are set there to mock the characters living there; it’s easy for Hollywood to sit and judge and call Southern living “backwards.” Here, Green establishes a sense of nostalgia, as if this is where life is simpler and feelings are unrestrained by the busy nature of city life.
The cinematography is beautiful– I can’t think of a movie where North Carolina has looked more lovely. Green also has an eye for memorable images; the slow motion clown dance in particular stands out to me weeks after I’ve last seen it. The performances are all delicately done, delivering the simple poetry of Green’s words in an understated way that makes them feel all the more true. Green’s dialogue is quirky, but without all of the trappings that come with that word in indie film– none of it is forced, it is merely an accurate representation of the way our real-life conversations tend to wander, especially around our drinking buddies and around the girl you’re falling in love with.
Towards the end, there’s a shocking moment, which made me angry the first time I saw it, but which Green earns and pays off nicely. He refuses to judge any of his characters for their actions– he treats them all with a loving eye, which then results in them being so endearing to us. Even Shea Wigham’s turn as the angry drunken brother Tip… we feel for him, even as we’re scared of what he might do to Paul. It’s one of the most accurate representations of what falling in love is like, and the complications of such a fall, that I’ve ever seen on film. The first time most of us fall in love, it’s in high school, in a pre-sex lifestyle, and the courtship never revolves around sleeping together, but getting to know the person and finding your commonalities and starting to care on a deeper level. This movie reflects that, with no tricks and no grand gestures, but somehow manages to feel larger than life all the same. All The Real Girls is as real as it gets.
Ebert says: “”All the Real Girls,” David Gordon Green’s second film, is too subtle and perceptive, and knows too much about human nature, to treat their lack of sexual synchronicity as if it supplies a plot. Another kind of movie would be entirely about whether they have sex. But Green, who feels tenderly for his vulnerable characters, cares less about sex than about feelings and wild youthful idealism.”
Read the rest here.