ALL THE REAL GIRLS A
USA (108 mi) 2003 ‘Scope d: David Gordon Green
That was all her. That was rehearsal. That’s her heart and her soul. Those little whispers and little moments; it’s not a witty screenwriter behind there, it’s a genuine girl that feels things and has a sensitivity you fall in love with. At least I do. It’s those little moments that make relationships I’ve had memorable. It’s the weird little quirks in girls’ mannerisms and behavior. Going on a structured date and going through the routines of relationships is inconsequential and ultimately forgettable. But it’s those little things that just stab you when they’re gone, when you know you’re not going to get that whisper in your ear anymore.
―David Gordon Green on Zooey Deschanel
This played at Sundance and was released very quickly afterwards, given a Special Jury Prize for “emotional truth,” yet disappeared from movie theaters after about a week. A different kind of love story that doesn’t offer easy answers, with a script that is refreshingly original and accessible, much different from George Washington (2000), where the overall theme is about heartbreak, something we’ve all experienced, and somehow, it’s our own lives that are magically transformed onscreen. This film has a wonderful intensity level that grows stronger as the film progresses, as we become personally involved with the outcome. Much of the opening ensemble sequences are damn near incomprehensible, multiple Southern drawls all talking at once, like David Gordon Green was using one of Altman’s sound men. And as brilliant and powerful as this film is, the only disappointment is it is missing an ending that knocks your socks off, like the rest of the film does. Instead, it just moves quietly into another day. To be a film for the ages, arguably Green’s best film, some believe it needs more. While Criterion was impressed enough to distribute David Gordon Green’s original feature, George Washington (2000), complete with early student shorts, they passed on this film, emotionally raw and narratively oblique at times, still unpolished, where the sound is either too soft or too loud (at the racetrack), but utterly authentic in representing the frame of mind of the inexpressibility of youth, where they experience the feelings, but can’t express them, ending up lost in a wasteland of internal friction and frustration, like not being able to walk when you need to get across the room. Zooey Deschanel is a revelation delivering her breakout role as a young woman returning from boarding school to her small home town, where she falls in love for the first time. Green depicts the tentative courtship between Paul (Schneider) and Noel (Deschanel) in a series of beautifully filmed vignettes interspersed with scenes of day to day life in a small mining town set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Co-written with Paul Schneider, who also stars, All the Real Girls is simultaneously achingly accurate and poetic in its portrait of first love. I still recall being asked by a theater patron after a viewing what I thought this film was about, unhesitatingly responding, “Heartache.”
One could easily mistake this for a Terence Malick film, which is an exceptional compliment, as it thrives in a world filled with tenderness and an understated, poetic elegance. The power of this film evolves slowly with the exposure of tiny revelations from each carefully nuanced character, all so beautifully etched into this small-town Southern environment of Marshall, a North Carolina mill town, perfectly captured by the extraordinary ‘Scope work of cinematographer Tim Orr. But this is some of the best ensemble acting on screen today, particularly poignant is the performance of Zooey Deschanel, who is nothing short of brilliant, and the supporting performances of Patricia Clarkson (Schneider’s mother) and Shea Wingham as Tip (Deschanel’s brother and Schneider’s best friend). What’s tragically obvious in this story of two would-be lovers is that they can’t make a move without the whole town knowing about it, so they act in ways they never intend, and then hardly recognize themselves afterwards. As Tip’s best friend and partner in crime, both have reputations for sleeping with all the women in town but never sticking with them afterwards, like conquests in the night, slinking away afterwards, never bothering to call. Paul, who’s never seen life as more than one-night stands, never peering over the horizon at what his future could be, is extremely aware that Noel is the younger sister to his overprotective best friend, and while she urges closer contact, he’s a bit standoffish, not wanting to piss off his friend, also knowing his own reputation as the town lothario, wanting this to somehow be different. Tip doesn’t have an easy time with it either, flying off the handle, revealing a violent temper, brutally taking it out on some innocent kid, though his real ire is with Paul, angrily stomping off afterwards, screaming, “We ain’t friends no more. You ain’t even in my top ten!” Reminiscent of the Dostoevsky short story White Nights, which is the source material for Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d'un rêveur... (1971), also an earlier Visconti film White Nights (La Niotti Bianche) (1957) with Marcello Mastroianni, while there is another unseen 1959 Russian film by the same name, but this story does bring the film a little closer into focus. In the same way ALL THE REAL GIRLS is about “him,” yes, it shows “her” in all her glory, and Zooey Deschanel dominates the screen time, but ultimately, it’s about a guy who loves and doesn’t get the girl, ending up brooding in his own misery, confused by the possibilities, getting in his own way, ignoring all the positive signs.
In small towns, aimless rural kids travel in packs, always seemingly together, even when it makes no sense, with males and females separated in their own cliques, with only the alpha males making the female sexual conquests, while the rest are pretty much dorks. An emotionally driven film, mostly told through photography and sound, one can appreciate Green’s auteur style, using improvisation, orchestrating scenes with slow camera approaches and long, static shots, using fade outs to express the passing of time. A sense of awkwardness prevails, reflecting the ages of the kids, finding it difficult to communicate the overwhelming flood of intense and distinct emotions happening simultaneously. While there are eccentric aspects to some of the stylizations, Green does not shy away from just how alone some kids feel, especially those that are different or afflicted with disabilities, but here they are loved and appreciated, even if their parents are a bit weird themselves. One of the telling scenes takes place in a bar, with Paul drinking heavily, feeling sorry for himself, trying to apologize to one of the many girls he left behind, Mary-Margaret (Heather McComb), but she’s having none of it, filled with her own righteous anger, “You’re not sorry. You know how I know that? Because you’re not smart enough to be sorry. Guys like you... you never quit, and you never leave ― you’re gonna be here forever. How does it make you feel knowing that?” There’s an underlying nihilism at stake here, challenging any sense of optimism, but no matter how bleak the times, there’s a sense that this too shall pass. This film has a familiar feel with Andrew J. Smith’s THE SLAUGHTER RULE (2002), another delicate film exquisitely acted that beautifully captures small-town Montana, but Green broadens his vision by creating long, extended sequences of wonderfully small moments, working on cars, hanging out in a playground, sitting by a riverside, talking on a porch or in an industrial wasteland, in a café, in a bedroom, some moments seem lost and disconnected, but others are achingly real, and in combination with the luminous imagery, there are moments of brilliance in this film, the power of which is that they are just so damned believable. One of the best films of the year, BEST FILMS SEEN IN THE YEAR 2003 - Cranes Are Flying, this is one gorgeous film experience with a terrific musical score by David Wingo and Michael Linnen, featuring a host of promising new musicians that fit the indie groove, opening with Will Oldham - All These Vicious Dogs (All the Real Girls version) YouTube (3:10), featuring the incredibly beautiful Sparklehorse - Sea Of Teeth YouTube (4:31), my personal favorite Cactus Wren - YouTube (4:42) by Mark Olson and the Creekdippers, with the dreamy singalong Say Goodbye Good - The Promise Ring - YouTube (6:46) playing over the end credits, where the emotional authenticity from the characters perfectly matches the visually rich power of the images.