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DVD Review: All the Real Girls

by dave heaton

"Nobody said we had to be perfect," one young lover says to another at some point in All the Real Girls. A movie about young people falling in love is nothing unique, really, but one that doesn't try to make its characters perfect is. This is a love story that really captures the awkwardness, playfulness, joy and hurt of love, in all its complexity.

A plot description for All the Real Girls, the second film from writer/director David Gordon Green, wouldn't hint at how remarkable the film is. The two main characters, played by Paul Schneider (who shares a credit for the story with Green, and also had a small part in Green's first film George Washington) and Zooey Deschenel, come across like real people, not Hollywood stock figures. Watching the film, you understand what they're going through at every moment. The film revels in the ways they joke with each other, the secrets they share, and they way they hurt each other's feelings, without making their story feel any more important than any one else's stories. In other words, this is no epic love story, definitely not a Titanic. The film doesn't try to make the lovers larger than life or their story tragic, it just presents us with a story that is entertaining to watch and has truths about life and human nature within it.

In a way the film is less about love than about how people affect each other and learn from each other. Schneider's character, Paul, is especially in a growing period of his life, where he's learning more about himself with every mistake he makes. To the film's credit, it shows us a character who's discovering new things about himself without hitting us over the head with them. Everything is revealed in expressions and words and small actions. The film also widens its view beyond the lovers. The supporting characters (friends, family and neighbors) are just as compelling - an entire film based around any one of them could be just as interesting.

As in George Washington, Green and cinematographer Tim Orr craft the film in a poetic way, with scenes cutting off into others and ample spaces left in the story for us to fill in. They also present a gorgeous vision of the rural South, something rare in Hollywood film. It's hard to find many (or any) matter-of-fact or loving portraits of small-town America that don't condescend to its characters or ridicule them. All the Real Girls shows us a small town without caricatures (no town drunk, no redneck sheriff, no teenage girl eager to move to the big city…you know them all), with real people whose stories and feelings will strike a genuine chord with anyone, no matter where you're from.

With riveting performances, spot-on dialogue, complex characters, remarkable images and a fantastic musical score, All the Real Girls is to me as perfect as films come.

{Note: The DVD includes an audio commentary from Green and Schneider which is friendly and insightful, one of those commentaries where you feel like you're listening to friends casually tell you what they've been up to. There's also a deleted scene and a brief making-of featurette; neither is remarkable but both are entertaining.}

Issue 16, October 2003

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