Published Jun 01, 2000Imagine "High Fidelity" as directed by Jean Luc Godard and you've basically got the gist of "A Girl is a Girl." First-time writer/director Reg Harkema packs in more Godard references per frame than Hal Hartley could shake a stick at (the title, most obviously, is riffing on "Une Femme est une Femme"), and if that scares you off, let me assure you that, far from being a stilted film school project, this promising debut is actually more down to earth, and true to life than most 20-something romantic comedies I can think of. It was shot in Vancouver, and in addition to featuring a soundtrack full of local indie rock, it wears its cool locations like a comfy old sweatshirt, the same way Austin, Texas is intrinsic to Richard Linklater movies. Harkema worked hard to create the laid back rhythms of the post-university slacker lifestyle, and he accomplished this by shooting tons of footage and allowing his actors the freedom to improvise while the camera was rolling. His original script was 215 pages long, and the rough cut of the film clocked in at 187 minutes, which he then cut down to a considerably sleeker running time of just under an hour-and-a-half. The result is a sly, meandering meditation on the fickle nature of boyish love and lust.
The protagonist of the story is a shaggy-haired graphic design student named Trevor (Andrew McIntyre) who doesn't have movie-star good looks, or a charismatic personality, or even the ability to play three chords on a guitar (which he laments frequently), but he seems to have great luck attracting stunning women. His paper-thin views on women have been formed by an adolescence spent fixating on fashion magazines, so he tends to seek out and attain women who look like models. The movie covers several years in his life, showing key intimate moments with his string of girlfriends (in the beginning, each segment is preceded by a title card with the girl's name in big bold letters that fill the screen), and as the vignettes progress, we see more of Trevor's insecurities unraveling, and the relationships become commensurately trickier. When he actually ends up with a former model named Lisa (Aeryn Twidle, in a performance she inhabits with uncanny ease), the accompanying psychological baggage that she brings to the relationship turns out to be more than he can handle.
There's a real sweetness to Harkema's approach to his characters. There's a scene in which, the day after they had a fight, Lisa meets up with Trevor, who's moping at a coffee shop, and she greets him with a generous, all-is-forgotten smile, and despite this, he just continues to mope and screw things up. It's the old cliche about women being more emotionally mature than men, and it's never been more convincingly portrayed. You realise why this cliche rings so true when one of Trevor's friends, stoned on two or three substances at the same time, waxes philosophical on the subject of why he doesn't have a girl in his life at the moment: "Y'know, I love lyin' in bed with them and gettin' high... but sometimes I just don't wanna share my hash."