***½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B+
starring Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Clarkson, Benjamin Mouton
written and directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw David Gordon Green's sophomore picture All the Real Girls has the quality of a Faulknerian myth, with rural North Carolina subbing for his Yoknapatawpha County. It reminds of (and refers to) Terrence Malick's dreamlike naturalism more than in the stylistic similarity of Tim Orr's meticulous compositions--there is in Green's work an understanding of those delicate moments that carve indelibly into the collective sublime. Marking the unbearable tragedy of being human, in his second film Green observes the madness of love in a temporary world, his gift in charting the native poetry of place and imperfection. When he allows that inarticulate frustration to fester against the backdrop of a stained paradise (George Washington), he creates an American masterpiece; when that furious inability to communicate comments on first love (All the Real Girls), he creates something no less elegant though considerably less able to sustain the gravity of its treatment.
Paul (Paul Schneider) has been around the block in his small North Carolina town, and just at the moment he's ready to re-examine his life his best friend's little sister Noel (Zooey Deschanel) returns to town. The movements of their courtship unfold stutter-step to the slow exhalation of the picture's post-industrial landscape as Noel's brother Tip (Shea Whigham) ponders a transition into fatherhood, and Paul's mother Elvira (Patricia Clarkson) finds herself defined by the terminally ill children she entertains.
There's a feeling of exhaustion to the film, one that serves as a sharp counterpoint to Paul's tentative struggle towards maturity while tying itself to the ambitious--and sometimes pretentious--reflection of the films of the Seventies. All the Real Girls has an unerring eye for liminal spaces and people on the verge of self-wisdom (reminding of Errol Morris's early work (particularly Vernon, Florida)) and hits on something genuine and true in a long take of a young couple speaking love on an empty bowling lane. The difficulty at all times of characters trying to connect with one another comes to a head in a desperately cheerful wrestling match between Elvira and her grown son and, again, in a scene in a car where Paul confesses something and Noel shouts, "What does that mean?"
All the Real Girls draws its poignancy from its lack of narrative meaning--its truths are ultimate ones and the pleasure of the text is its ability to evoke grace in the half-formed emotions of its broken lovers. The familiar progression Paul and Noel take from new love to fresh heartbreak is approached with a complete lack of irony; the real surprise of All the Real Girls is that it serves as an incisive commentary on the extent to which we, as the modern audience, have learned to accept a certain contrived cleverness as the true evocation of love. A continuation of 2002's remarkable roster of unexpected love stories, David Gordon Green's second film also evokes Claire Denis's late work, of Lindsay Anderson's oeuvre, and finally, of the hope--once strong--that American cinema could change the world. Originally published: February 14, 2003.
by Bill Chambers I'm smitten with All the Real Girls--I think I like it even more than director David Gordon Green's George Washington, which made my Top 10 of 2000. It's the filmic equivalent of a Radiohead album (well, maybe not "Pablo Honey"): fashionably unfashionable, stylistically obstinate, laconic yet assertive, and, most especially, enriched by replay. Columbia TriStar's DVD could scarcely better accommodate an appreciation of the picture: the approximately 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation rivals the Pixar digital-to-digital transfers for clarity of textures. There's a scene early in the film (chapter 8) in which Patricia Clarkson's character is standing well into the background and we can still make out the individual dots on her clown costume; many of Tim Orr's images are postcard-perfect to begin with, but this is the sort of rendering that drives you to buy a video printer and fulfill that promise. The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fantastically clear as well, with Days of Thunder-like bass providing the only showroom moment during chapter 18's off-road race. In his excellent commentary track with All the Real Girls star/co-writer Paul Schneider, Green implores us to "test the limits" of our DVD player by listening for the embedded conversations that, partially in hommage to Robert Altman, add layers to several sequences.
Green and Schneider focus mainly on casting in their yakker, and while this is a crutch for lesser filmmakers, here it leads to fertile self-analysis of their work ethic, visual approach, and life philosophy. The pair can even be emotionally affecting at times, as when the topic turns to John Kirkland's audition: afflicted with Down Syndrome, the actor made Schneider cry in his post-read interview, prompting Kirkland to mistake Schneider's empathy for loneliness and promise to be his friend. A man after my own heart, Schneider also laments, "Why couldn't this have been an incest picture?" once reminded that Clarkson plays his mother.
Supplementals include a 19-minute featurette from the ROSAS production house--"Improv and Ensemble: The Evolution of a Film"--that's almost too glossy for a film like All the Real Girls, but it does add the perspectives of Zooey (pronounced Zoë) Deschanel and other key cast and crew members, Orr unfortunately not among them. (If I may toot our own horn, our interview with Green and Schneider from last spring contains many of the same insights proposed herein with far less expurgation.) A block of four deleted scenes of compromised quality reveals that a little "Bust-Ass" goes a long way: Danny McBride is the locus of this cutting-room quartet, and though he's funny begging a cousin for sex ("Christmas is fucked," he mumbles after she storms off repulsed), he's less so trying to induce vomiting or standing around wearing a glittery helmet, an all-too-comfortable reminder of the hyperactive kid Mike Myers essayed on "Saturday Night Live". Trailers for All the Real Girls and Love Liza round out this must-have platter. Originally published: July 28, 2003.