Dirty Girl

| February 2, 2012

Like its heroine, a wild teenager with little regard for authority named Danielle (Juno Temple), Dirty Girl only has the pretense of rebellion. The film establishes off the bat its anachronistic 1987 small town setting, rapid fire profanity, and brazen sexuality. But soon the story falters into a realm of teary-eyed cliché. Like many films concerning itself with the precarious nature of teenaged characters, it ends up lacking the self-awareness the characters themselves don’t have. Danielle is openly promiscuous, hopping from boy to boy in her high school with a cloud of cigarette smoke trailing right behind her. The shorts and bright tube tops she wears proclaim that Danielle is that girl who says she doesn’t give a damn, but when you look closer, she’s looking for approval just as desperately as everyone else.
After a particularly damning gaff at school she is sent to a remedial class where she meets and slowly befriends Clarke (Jeremy Dozier). Clarke is gay and overweight, dealing with bullies not only at school, but also at home in the form of his homophobic father (Dwight Yoakam). His mother (Mary Steenburgen), while sympathetic, can’t seem to protect him. While Danielle feels her home life is a mess, as well, Danielle deals with her naïve if heartfelt mother (an oddly cast Milla Jovovich) who is marrying a Mormon (William H. Macy) out of desperation and desire not to be lonely. Thinking that her L.A. based father is the answer to her problems, Danielle decides on a road trip. Clarke comes along for the ride, hoping to find a worthwhile place for himself in the world.
Danielle and Clarke bring along a sack of flour, named Joan, they are supposed to treat as a child for their remedial class assignment . The inked-on face changes in pivotal moments, telegraphing how the audience feels. Coupled with Danielle’s voice-over, full of half-baked daddy issues, profanity, and yearning for authenticity, it’s hard to take anything to heart. But there are a few sweet moments like the sing-a-long to Teena Marie while Danielle and Clarke drive through New Mexico.
The film, directed by first time writer/director Abe Sylvia, has an uneven tone that makes it hard to truly connect to the story. But even with all these issues, one can appreciate the passion behind it, if not the product that comes on screen, which is a generous approach to this frustratingly messy debut. Temple tries her hardest to bring a liveliness to the story, but she overplays Danielle’s early trampy side and the teary-eyed drama that comes afterwards. Dozier, as Clarke, is unable to find a through line for his character, who is a checklist of gay stereotypes. This mish-mash of traits never adds up to fascinating or even empathetic characters. The film also creates a questionable link between Danielle’s promiscuity and her absent father that speaks to a lack of understanding or effort in depicting female sexuality.
Dirty Girl, with its faux bravado and lack of self-awareness, never hits the mark for which it so earnestly aimed. It isn’t particularly funny, heart warming, or even memorable. The problem is that it tries too hard and we’re only given glimpses of a more interesting bitchy cult movie. Dirty Girl is trashy melodrama taken to an emotionless, all-over-the-map extreme. But it doesn’t even have the crazed so-bad-it’s-good vibe to make it memorable beyond the credits.

About the Author:

Angelica Jade Bastien is a freelance writer specializing in screenwriting and feminist pop culture criticism. When not writing she can be found reading comics or discussing why Elizabeth Taylor is her cinematic spirit sister. She lives in Chicago with her lovely cat, Professor Butch Cassidy. You can follow her on Twitter @viperslut.
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