Published Jan 01, 2006Stories be they told orally, visually or literarily need tension and resolution. For romantic films, with a dash of comedy or without, this tension typically comes from the two "leads," whose progress to love is hindered by their environment, their circumstances, or by some ridiculously contrived high concept plot device. (For examples, see the ouvre of Meg Ryan.)
In David Gordon Green's quiet indie All the Real Girls, that hindrance is internal to its protagonists, Paul (Green's film school bud Paul Schneider, who helped conceive the plot out of their own romantic travails) and Noel (Zooey Deschanel), an inexperienced boarding school student returning to her hometown. Paul has spent his late high school years bonding with his lifelong buddies including his best friend, who happens to be Noel's brother and having casual, dismissive sex with a variety of women in this small North Carolina mill town. His reputation precedes him, especially with Noel's brother, complicating the burgeoning love connection between them.
Writer and director David Gordon Green (who earned much acclaim for his first feature, George Washington) takes a refreshingly less-trodden path in telling the story of this relationship. As the film opens, Noel and Paul have already reconnected there is no "meeting" story here and the well-drawn details of small town life suffuse this approach. We are dropped into a life in progress here including Paul's unusual, co-dependent relationship with his mother (the recently ubiquitous Patricia Clarkson) and the entrenched habits of his unexamined life. Noel's life is less established; having been apart for most of her crucial growing up, she arrives both more worldly and less experienced, apart from the established community to which she appears like an outsider.
The path she takes with Paul into an exploration of passion, the obstacles to intimacy, and the impact of their pasts on a future together is fresh for both of them. For Noel, there are naïve, tentative first steps towards love; for Paul, it's an effort to connect with real honesty and openness to another person. The rich details of Paul's character in particular are what make All the Real Girls strike an honest chord in a terribly contrived genre; Deschanel's work goes a long way in establishing Noel's challenges as well. But working from their own experiences, and the bonds of friendship that underlie their creative efforts, Green and Schneider are telling the story of a boy's life. It's Paul's issues his evolving relationships with his buddies as they all alternately embrace and shy away from adult responsibility that ring truest here. Its final product is a chick flick for guys one that may strike a little too close to the heart for some. (Mongrel Media)