All the Real Girls

Director: David Gordon

U.S.A.| 2003. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 108 mins.

While his debut George Washington announced the arrival of a distinctive new talent on the American film scene, this second feature confirms writer-director David Gordon Green as the genuine article. The style is immediately recognisable, setting loose, semi-improvised sounding dialogue (often delivered by non-professional performers) and decidedly scuffed small-town backgrounds against lyrical, sun-dappled camerawork by Tim Orr, all of it held in suspension by a languorously chiming musical undertow on the soundtrack. The Terrence Malick of Badlands and Days Of Heaven is an obvious touchstone, yet the 28-year-old Green seems that bit closer in age to the youthful passions and conflicts his work thus far describes.
That’s particularly evident in All The Real Girls, which captures the traumatic elation of first love with an authentic sensitivity which suggests it’s still relatively fresh in its creator’s own experience. Green co-wrote the screenplay with his leading actor Paul Schneider, who plays a local Lothario starting to regret the dubious reputation he’s acquired when his best-pal’s sister comes home from boarding school and lightning strikes. Zooey Deschanel’s mesmerising performance as the wide-eyed No’l illuminates the whole film from within, making touchingly vivid the alchemical onrush of emotions which has overwhelmed the young couple.
If love seems bigger than both of them, they each seem to want something different out of it (redemption for him, self-affirmation for her), thus setting up the potential for turmoil and confusion which lifts the film well out of the usual Hollywood cookie-cutter template. Green gauges their troubled progress by cutting in and out of scenes when you hardly expect it, yet such seemingly raggedy spontaneity perfectly expresses the characters’ jumbled feelings, conveyed with palpable sympathy, definite respect, and not an ounce of cynicism.

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