All The Real Girls (2003) – movie review

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Clarkson, Benjamin Mouton
Director: David Gordon Green

The sub-genre of American indie films has experienced a rapid growth in popularity throughout the last decade. The Sundance Festival has raised the profile of films produced outside of the aegis of major production companies. Lauded actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman have built their reputation on the back of appearances in low-key projects, and even major stars such as Jennifer Aniston will happily take a break from populist fare to essay a more downbeat role (THE GOOD GIRL) in order to boost their credibility. ALL THE REAL GIRLS is a determinedly indie American film. It adheres strictly to what has become a standard issue blueprint for such films: an earnest and largely unknown cast, a loosely constructed story based on small-town concerns, and short dialogue-driven scenes which often seem to be tangential to any semblance of rational plot development.

ALL THE REAL GIRLS is set in a small North Carolina town where twenty-something friends Tip and Paul have grown up together. They share a history of competitive womanising so relations become strained when Tip’s younger sister, Noel, returns from boarding school and embarks on a relationship with Paul. But Tip’s fears are unfounded as Paul’s intentions are entirely honourable and he and Noel enjoy an honest, easygoing, and refreshingly playful friendship. Within the restricted confines of their hometown they are never far from the attentions of friends and family but as their involvement deepens the focus of the film strays from the array of second-string characters to concentrate almost entirely on the central coupling. However, this ultimately detracts from the film’s appeal because once Paul and Noel’s relationship sours into a protracted mutual angst the story loses some of its easy-fit charm.

Overall, despite plot strands being only partially resolved and an ending that is predictably inconclusive, the positive factors of ALL THE REAL GIRLS outweigh the negative. The pitch of the film lies somewhere between THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and DINER but it lacks the clever wit and strong characterisation of these films. Where it does score is in the simple representation of regular people leading everyday lives and coping with fluctuating emotions. This is exemplified by a plaintive depiction of a dull sexual encounter that, in the context of the film, is amongst the most heart-rending cinematic moments I’ve seen so far this year.

4 out of 6 stars