Movie Review: Dirty Girl (2011)

Writer/director Abe Sylvia makes his feature directorial debut with Dirty Girl, a film that doesn’t live up to its title or marketing in terms of raunch, but is decent enough. Even if it is nothing more than an R-rated after school special.

“Dirty Girl” is a The Weinstein Co. release, directed by Abe Sylvia and is rated R for sexual content including graphic nudity, and for language. The running time is 1 hour 39 minutes.

The cast includes Juno Temple, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam and Jeremy Dozier.

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Set in 1987, Juno Temple (AtonementKiller Joe) stars as Danielle, the titular “dirty girl”, a high schooler whose mouth lands her in a remedial class where she’s paired up with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), an overweight and gay quiet type with a homophobic father (Dwight Yoakum) threatening to send him to military school. The two are assigned a parenting project where they have to care for a bag of flour as if it were their child. Danielle is initially uninterested in playing any part in the project, but soon comes around once she realizes she won’t be getting out of remedial class unless she shows some effort.

As fate and the screenwriting gods would have it, this innocent school project leads Danielle to begin questioning who her real father is now that her mother (Milla Jovovich) is preparing to marry her devote Mormon boyfriend played by William H. Macy. And to be honest, I can’t blame Danielle for being so turned off by the idea of having this insufferable blow-hard as a stepfather.

With Clarke’s help, the two soon find what they’re looking for and a road trip from Oklahoma to California is in the cards. Clarke steals his father’s Cadillac and the two set off for the great unknown, on a journey of discovery set to classic ’80s tunes.

In a nutshell, Sylvia has created an innocent and far from obscene film although Dirty Girl‘s opening moments would cause you to expect quite the opposite. Dressed in short shorts and introduced having sex with a fellow student in the parking lot, Danielle is something of a teenage sexual tornado. “If the girl’s on top, who’s the one getting f–ked?” is her motto, but we’ll later realize this was less of a character trait and more of a front for a girl without a father figure in her life.

Temple plays Danielle with enough gusto to make you believe she’s the vixen the film paints her out to be, but as she goes from a caustic high school rebel to a weepy little girl you can’t help but wonder what happened in-between. Nevertheless, Temple keeps spirits high and proves that while Dirty Girl may not be her official coming out party there should be plenty of opportunities on the horizon.

Clarke, on the other hand, has been beaten by his father while his mother (Mary Steenburgen) sits idly by. He’s a lost soul and decides to hitch his wagon to Danielle’s horse primarily because he has no other option. Dozier is appealing as the doughy and confused young teen as he hits on every gay cliche in the book, but he does manage to do it with some sense of restraint. He doesn’t go too over the top, playing a character where I did get a sense of some real inner conflict.

The growth the two characters show is an easy enough path to follow, but Sylvia isn’t exactly subtle with his decisions, wedging moments into this thing with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. Late in the feature specifically, the two protagonists run out of gas and are on the run as the car has been reported stolen. It’s from this point on the film goes from being a road trip to discovery to a race to the finish as both Danielle and Clarke drop all facades and ultimately become two entirely different people.

This, I’d say, is the film’s largest issue. Sylvia clearly wanted to use Danielle’s sexuality as a selling point and a way to create punch lines along with her sassy tongue when it comes to her ill-treatment of Clarke, but he never quite figured out how to balance that out with the character Danielle would be by the film’s end.

I do, however, have to give Sylvia kudos for one clever plot device as he uses the duo’s high school parenting project as an emotional barometer along the way. Utilizing voice over provided by Temple, it’s as if the bag of flour is alive as its inked on facial expressions change from one chapter of the story to the next. It’s a humorous device that works damn near every time he goes to it.

All things considered, Dirty Girl is a film you can wait to catch on one of the independent movie channels listed high up on your cable box about six months after its release. It’s a fun enough feature and I think Sylvia shows he may have a future in this biz, but it’s not a film I’d say you need to rush out and see.


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