' Cinema Romantico: My Great Movies: All The Real Girls

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Great Movies: All The Real Girls

I'm tempted to call this the most poetic film I've ever seen but as I attempt to decide whether to succumb to said temptation I wonder why people tend to give certain films that label. Meriam Webster online defines poetic this way: "Of, relating to, or characteristic of poets or poetry." Oh. Okay. So what does poetry mean, exactly? Again we travel to Meriam Webster: "Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm."

Meaning. Sound. Rhythm. Three qualities abundant in "All the Real Girls", I think. Poetry possesses a kind of a dreamlike quality, yes? And "All the Real Girls" has that too.

Set in a tiny un-Hollywood-ized mill town in North Carolina, the second feature film of David Gordon Green is content to move at its own pace - a leisurely one, if you will. But don't mistake its leisure for being meaningless. In tiny towns (whether they have a mill or a grain elevator or a VFW or a whatever) lives much like these are being lived a million times over, and in these lives moments of real, unadorned beauty can emerge. They emerge through sound, whether music or the rippling of a lazy river. And rhythm - the rhythm of an ordinary life in an ordinary town.


I want you to take special note of the scene that opens the film once the credits have concluded rolling detailing the first kiss of our two primary characters, Paul (Paul Schneider, one of my absolute favorite character actors) and Noel (Zooey Deschanel). The initial kiss of any relationship is monumental and placing it at the start is a bold move, even if the scene itself seems deceptively simple. (Also note how Gordon shoots it in a single take. Such a moment is far too intimate for a cut-away.)

Perhaps the most noteworthy of element of Green's screenplay is in the way he provides each character his or her own distinct voice. After the opening scene we move to Paul and three of his friends ambling through town and to a little diner and discussing nothing of particular importance. Tip (Shea Wiggham) talks like, shall we say, a Cool Guy, and even his mannerisms all seem staged, planned out ahead of time to ensure people notice them. The first time we see Bo (Danny McBride) he's droning on about the Butterfly Effect and later, after proudly declaring himself a lap steel player, Noel tells him she plays the trombone and how long she's played and Bo declares, "I've been playing the lap steel a lot longer than that." You know the sort - he's gotta one-up everybody at every turn.

Patricia Clarkson is Paul's mother and she talks almost as if she's still a kid (maybe she is - her day job is playing a clown at birthday parties and hospitals). Uncle Leland (Benjamin Mouton) at first glance seems to talk in a way existing outside of real life but then I hold the opinion this was Green's intent. His words are the words you often find yourself thinking but don't commit to saying out loud.


Paul seems intent on saying what he feels and what he means, except when he's with Noel in which case he seems more unsure of himself. And that brings us to Deschanel. The words she speaks don't noticeably stand out but her delivery is refreshingly unique. So often in life we start to speak and only then realize we don't know precisely what words we yearn to use and so we struggle to locate them as we talk at the same time. Deschanel talks just like that in almost every scene. The critic David Edelstein says she possesses "bizarre cadences—a sort of sing-song iambic pentameter that somehow suggests ungovernable feeling." That may come across as absurd in print but to to your ears Mr. Edelstein's words will ring true.

Paul and Noel have a conversation late at night that feels so overwhelmingly like real life it makes me smile to write about it. I would regret giving too much away but will say it involves, among other things, bad poetry and working at the mill. It flows just like an actual conversation would, the way each sentence leads into the other character's reply. This dialogue is on the level of "Before Sunrise", but with two people not quite as in love with language.

The story concerns their budding romance. She has been in a boarding school for girls since age 13 and, thus, has little to no experience with boys. He, on the other hand, has - as Tip puts is - "been with every girl in town." He tells them he loves them. He doesn't mean it. He moves on. But he feels something different for Noel and this is why - as we establish in the opening scene - it takes him so long to kiss her. The eventual scene of Paul and Noel in bed doesn't (gasp!) lead straight to sex. She makes a declaration - a declaration I will not reveal but you can probably figure out fairly easily - but it feels authentic. His reaction, when considering the direction he wants their relationship to go, feels authentic too.


The arc the two characters take is probably inevitable when considering the change Paul has undergone and the fact Noel is still so young, but life is rife with the inevitable. You tell someone you're in love and he or she immediately says, "I don't believe you." You tell your friend how much you like a girl and he instantly wonders if you've slept with her yet. And so you find yourself discussing the mysteries of romance with an 8 year old since she's the only one who will truly listen.

The esteemed Roger Ebert is a critic who thinks fondly of Green and can see why some do not. Green's films, he writes, "leave some audiences unsettled, because they do not proceed predictably according to the rules....but they are immediately available to our emotions." We all have been consumed at one time or another by emotions we do not understand and that can leave us almost paralyzed.

It would be wrong to say that "All The Real Girls" does not possess arc because it most certainly does. It's not swift, straight-ahead, hells-bells, Screenwriting-Class arc. It's fragmented. It stops and starts. But that's the arc of real life. Why would someone do this or say that, you may find yourself wondering, and an answer isn't always needed because sometimes in real life you don't have any idea what the hell you're doing. You ponder making decision which you know you will probably regret if you make it and then you make it anyway and then, well, you regret it.

Paul knows he will regret making a certain decision and so he fights off making it for as long as possible and once he does it feels horrible, more an act of concession, or of surrender, then desire, and people, as they must, gather themselves and move on. Hence this most poetic of films always reminds me of some poetry from the pen of the incomparable Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis on their song "Portions for Foxes".

The talking leads to touching
and the touching leads to sex
and then there is no mystery left.

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