Review: All the Real Girls (2003)
All the Real Girls is a movie I should really like. It’s got great visuals, a wonderful fluidity of words casually thrown about, some amusing supporting characters, a lazy afternoon style of pacing, and so on. It’s just that whenever the two main characters talk, especially to each other, you want to reach into the screen and punch them in the throat. It’s like hating pickles and finding them occasionally in this great sandwich. Or if mint makes you wince and you get odd doses of it in a cake or candy. Actually, fuck that, it’s like being allergic to peanuts, and you somehow keep having one thrown in your mouth by someone, it just makes you want to gag at that moment and forget everything else.
Let’s get out the good. This movie is preposterously gorgeous. Director David Gordon Green and cinematographer Tim Orr frame and light this film beautifully. They also fill it with all sorts of great background tics. In one long tracking shot between the main character and his dad talking about women, there are two guys on this high rail in the background, (inaudibly) chatting and kicking their legs like little kids. It has a almost tangible warmth to every frame as well. If you have even seen one segment of a film by Terrence Malick you will see an immediate recognition of his influence. Yeah, I know; it’s easy word count to compare artists to other artists, but it’s like if you see a certain film by F.W. Munrau, then Alfred Hitchcock, then Brian De Palama (who actually inspired Malick to switch majors from philosophy to film. [Bet you didn’t think I would reconnect these two strands, did ya?]). Clearly, each successive person thought there was something beautiful and worth preserving by that preceding filmmaker, even while adding their own interests. Green clearly loves Malick’s work, and he shares his love with us, and exceptionally well I might add.
The dialogue is very free flowing, it’s doesn’t start and stop in certain time signatures like classical Hollywood dialogue, it just flows out, sometimes in more spurts then others. I think Danny McBride gets a lot of the better exchanges here. His bit about what he likes to get for breakfast, then notes how when he feels special he gets something sweet like pancakes, is cutely countered by the suggestion of french toast or waffles. His thoughtful reply “Well, I usually don’t go to places that fancy.” Pretty funny. Or when he’s all but telling the female protagonist he likes her and wants that love returned. “Who’s your number two guy?” [Tells him she has a #1-He persists-She says if not him,no one then]. “Uh,..ok..but.. ..but.. say you can’t pick number one and you can’t chose ‘none’. Who would your number two be then?” And so on. This may not read well, but it works on screen. It’s very clearly a homage to Altman, and his many tracks of dialogue. And the cast largely pulls this move off very well.
But, sigh, and here we get to the problem of this film. The main characters, Paul and Noel, on paper have an interesting dynamic, and the idea of a lady killer seducing a virgin but finding actual emotional connection is acceptable, as ideas go. They just have the misfortune to be played by Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel. Put frankly, they don’t work as these characters. Schnedier, is too aloof and unromantic to play a charmer like the way Paul is meant to be. I don’t mean romantic in a dashing sense, or charming way, or some other way; I mean the very concept of romance and operating with the sphere of another human being seems beyond Schneider, like the stars above the jungle. At least here. His slow facial winces, and general glazed look of stupor suggests a funeral descent into a coma rather then the roughly edged but attractable person he is suppose to be. The fact that he co wrote it is nice, but here he didn’t quite succeeds in what he wanted to connect to.
And Zooey Deschanel… I saw this film for the first time during its initial theater run, and she immediately got her personality all the way up my nose. Her subsequent attempts to trying really hard to be the hipster venus de milo have only made her more unbearable. She acts well enough with her eyes, but every time she opens her mouth, a kind of acting black hole happens. Everything else it the film is somewhat sucked into and reduced to the basic elements. It’s almost like the film itself was de-evolved back to kodak stock when she’s around. Her attempts to talk about peanut butter being invented by her in a dream is the opposite of enjoyable, it’s vacuous and never once has the one hundred the whimsy it seeks to imbue the screen with.
Casting is hard. It’s one of the hardest things to do in a film. No matter how well written or well shot a film is, if the people playing the people we are following for two hours are not interesting, the film will certainly also not be interesting a hundred times over(despite exceptional bits here and there). There are some potentially great scenes here, the idea of Paul trying not to be excited around Noel, and running into a ice cold lake before getting into a hot tub with her so as not to be erect is clever. But Schneider and Deschanel portray them as people so caught up in their own (assumed) worth, and only notice each for aspects they love in themselves. They both think they are the sun the other revolves over. Nothing else matters but them. This movie is like stuffy twits/white privilege 101. “I got mine, you remind me of me, no one else exists”.
Maybe Green thinks these two actors are playing these characters as beautiful snowflakes, but the schism in character personality and actor persona is so great I seriously felt they were playing the characters as black comedy version of extreme mental retardation shown straight(is this a joke related to it being in the south?). It’s like those people who have been told everything they do is special, when it’s just cliche. You ever seen a person who draws a pig in cop uniform (something every underground cartoonist or satirist has done, cause it’s true) and quantifies it by saying it’s fresh and intellectually avant-garde, when really it’s dressing up a old joke and sucking all the fun out of it? That’s the way these actors are, a pretentious bore. The way they are played you expect at one point they’ll talk about the lack of a white entertainment television and seriously think that’s brand new idea. They won’t get get how ignorant and unoriginal/already disproven it is. They’re that isolated, the way they are played
But, anyway, this film is beautiful. Once you get those dumb characters muted, every shot of this film could be freezed, printed, and hung on a wall. It’s so gorgeous. Some of those geography establishing shots could be excellent wallpapers. I think it’s worth seeing for that, just tend to supply your own dialogue and actual human experiences for the scenes of Noel and Paul. It’s a bummer Green and Schneider didn’t have the luck(or self evaluation) to have the right actors to pull this off. Wait a minute, I’m recalling now; didn’t Malick make a even better shot, more whimsical movie, and have the main character played by a even more utterly unwatchable actor? Why yes, that was Days of Heaven, with Richard Gere. Every film is its own entity, so it’s sad history has a way of repeating some of its worse mistakes. In the meantime, we will have to look at the beautiful shreds of what quality we can get. Now to go watch those two guys kicking in the breeze on the rail and to wonder what they are saying.