Real life is full of all sorts of conflicting emotions and situations. Our days can be filled with moments of intense drama and also hysterical laughter. It’s only when we begin to translate those experiences to film that they become overwhelming more one than the other. Every film claims to strike a balance and admittedly some succeed, but it’s rare that a film goes so far into this unknown, but entirely realistic realm, that it begins to defy classification. For that reason, I can’t tell you that Dirty Girl is a clever comedy, an intense drama, or a poignant coming of age story; because it’s all of those things.
First time writer director Abe Sylvia brings this story, which, while not entirely auto biographical does have many similarities to his own childhood, to the screen and with it a fresh take on the bond that can form between two misfits who only want to be loved for who and what they are.
Danielle (Juno Temple) is that girl that young boys’ mothers always warn them about. She’s somewhat prematurely aware of the power of her sexuality and isn’t afraid to flaunt it and to use it to her advantage. She smokes, is flippant when it comes to her school work and she wears as little as possible to show the whole world what she’s working with. And it probably goes without saying that she has some serious daddy issues.
When she is paired with fellow school outcast, Clarke (played by the adorable breath of fresh air Jeremy Dozier) an unexpected friendship forms between the two that ultimately changes everything for both of them.
Set in rural Oklahoma in 1987, Dirty Girl fully lives in, but doesn’t exploit its time frame. So if you’re expecting to see a Ms. Pac-Man machine in the background of every scene or some Max Headroom style editing you’ll be disappointed. There is visually just enough going on to make you fully aware of the period, but again as in real life, it isn’t everywhere you turn. For me, the attitudes of the characters spoke more to the date than anything else. They will all be immediately familiar to anyone who grew up in the late 80’s.
Milla Jovovich plays a self-deluded single mom willing to put her kids needs secondary to the wishes of her soon-to-be second husband (William H. Macy). (What could possibly be more late 80’s than that?) And Mary Steenburgen is a wound way too tight prim and proper mom trying to pretend that she doesn’t see just how gay her son actually is for fear of her over bearing schlub of a husbands reaction to it.
Deciding to leave behind their less than idyllic homes and families Danielle and Clarke set out on a cross country road trip to find her biological father. What follows is a never boring, fun journey complete with a super-hot hitchhiker who also happens to be a stripper played by the ab-tastic Nicolas d’Agosto, some run in’s with the law and of course as expected and needed eventual closure for both of our struggling leads.
I know you may think that you’ve seen this relationship and this story before. The fat gay guy and the cute blonde coming together isn’t exactly unheard of and the road trip is a very commonly used story telling device. But the truth is the way it’s presented here it feels like a truly unique pairing and an unpredictable journey. I’m not sure if it’s because of the tone of the writing or the honesty of the performances, but either way by the end of this movie I was not only fully invested in these characters but I was really moved by what they had been through.
My favorite films have almost always been small independent projects like this one with big name leads in the cast… Dirty Girl, while boasting an impressive array of ‘name’ co-stars has now forced me to expand that category to include great independent films with relative unknowns leading the way. This is one of those special movies that seems to have come together exactly the way it was meant to and hopefully marks the beginning of a long career in film for both first timers Abe and Jeremy.
“Dirty Girl” is the story of Danielle (Juno Temple), the dirty girl of Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma, circa 1987. When Danielle’s misbehavior gets her banished to a remedial class, she is paired on a parenting project with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), an innocent closet-case with no friends. Danielle is determined to get to California to find the father she’s never met, and Clarke is desperate to escape being sent to military school by his homophobic dad. Together, the mismatched misfits light out for California, and discover each other and themselves through a funny and serendipitous friendship.