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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DIRTY GIRL -- DVD review by porfle


Partway into DIRTY GIRL (2010), the movie suddenly turns from what appears to be a teen sex comedy into a weird mishmash of campy cutesiness and mawkish melodrama.  Writer-director Abe Sylvia calls this a "bait-and-switch", but why would he want to bait the wrong audience into watching the movie while the right audience avoids it?

Anyway, it's smalltown Oklahoma in 1987, and behavioral problems get school slut Danielle (Juno Temple) stuck into the "slow" class where she's partnered with overweight gay outcast Clarke (Jeremy Dozier, who resembles a pudgy young James Hampton) in a parenting exercise that requires them to treat a sack of flour as their baby.  Since they're both outsiders with unhappy home lives, we know they'll bond sooner or later, although just how sappily they do so comes as a bit of a surprise.

Mary Steenburgen and Dwight Yoakam play Clarke's parents, and since all three actors are from the South we at least get some regional authenticity.  Dwight gets to be Doyle Hargraves from SLING BLADE again only this time with an official family, whom he intimidates with the standard macho bluster while Mom cowers and secretly supports her 65% gay son (in one of the film's funnier lines, Clarke tells Danielle: "My therapist showed me this chart that says I'm 35 percent hetero.  And if I can get that up to 60 percent, my parents won't send me to military school.")  We know Clarke's mom sympathizes with him because she bobs her head when he plays "I Want Candy" in his bedroom.


 
Meanwhile, Danielle's struggling single mom Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovitch), whom we know is a faded rose because "Delta Dawn" pops onto the film's jukebox when she's first shown, has hooked up with widower Ray (the great William H. Macy).  The prospect of a blended family with this straitlaced Mormon and his two creepy kids horrifies Danielle to the point of fleeing her home in search of her real father who disappeared before she was born.  Since the now openly-gay Clarke is avoiding his increasingly hostile dad, the two of them set off in Dwight's prized car for California, suddenly turning DIRTY GIRL into a road-trip movie. 

So far, the movie has abandoned its teen sex comedy premise (the closest we get to seeing Danielle being an actual "dirty girl" is when her car shakes in the parking lot and then she emerges post-coital from it, immaculate and sassy) along with any comedic developments we might've looked forward to regarding Danielle and Clarke's school situation and Danielle's prickly relationship with Macy and his family (Macy, in fact, disappears from the film at this point).  What we get is that coming-of-age bonding between the two runaways and their flour-sack baby, Joan, who ups the film's cuteness factor by acquiring the ability to change her drawn-on expressions in reaction to the moods of her adoptive "parents." 

We're also treated to an increasing number of by-the-numbers emotional moments that are inserted here and there with the appropriate soundtrack songs sparing the script the effort of letting us know how we're supposed to feel.  In fact, all of the film's emotional cues are delivered with songs, to the point where it seems there's a DJ somewhere spinning a different platter for each scene for our emotions to dance to.  Naturally, this includes the obligatory scenes of Danielle and Clarke bopping to uptempo tunes as they cruise down the highway, or crying while Melissa Manchester's lyrics tell us what they're feeling.


 
Drive-by romance enters the picture in the form of a handsome hitchhiker named Joel (Nicholas D'Agosto) who sets Clarke's heart aflutter, while the comedy takes a creepier turn when Clarke enters a striptease contest in a gay bar to earn some cash.  By the time he and Danielle reach California, however, the film has gone full-out maudlin, with enough precious and totally unrealistic emotional moments (each fueled by that relentless succession of treacly songs) to make the whole thing feel like an R-rated Afterschool Special. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonuses consist of a director's commentary and some deleted and extended scenes.

The final "Partridge Family" ending left me almost literally agog, amazed that director Sylvia actually intended for it to be taken seriously rather than as some kind of deadpan homage to John Waters.  In a way, it's screamingly funny, or at least so cringeworthy that you can't help but laugh with discomfort.  Maybe, because of this, DIRTY GIRL will eventually become some kind of perverse cult film, but taken at face value it's just a really odd sort of artifact.


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