Movies I’ve Seen: All the Real Girls

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Yesterday, I reviewed David Gordon Green’s first movie. I liked his second one almost as well. Have a good weekend.

All the Real Girls (2003). Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel.

All the Real Girls begins with a long, unbroken shot of the two protagonists (Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel) talking, just before their first kiss. The camera is entirely still. The nighttime photography casts a glow on their faces that’s so warmly delicate that it almost seems candlelit. Every brushback of hair, every half-uttered declaration, and every wary pause is captured by Green’s camera. The scene is the perfect representation of cinematic minutiae.

And yet the whole thing’s shot from a distance, and shot so lusciously that I paid almost as much attention to the light glancing off nearby pieces of wood as I did to its effect on the characters. It’s a superbly odd thing—a small movie made on a grand scale. Green is the cinematic fusion of two painters—Georges Seurat (in his impressionistic pointillism) and Titian (in his overwhelming gorgeous use of landscape and color). Schneider, as a North Carolina town’s young Lothario, falls hard for the dazed, loopy teenager Deschanel. The photography (by cinematographer Tim Orr, who also shot George Washington) is razor-sharp, catching reflections so crisply that I almost mistook them for the real thing. For such a young filmmaker, Green possesses an incredible understanding of stillness and silence—he seems to be one of two white-boy Young Turks who didn’t watch too much MTV growing up. (The other is Wes Anderson.) The rich photography evokes North Carolina as fluently as anything you’ll ever see. The rolling clouds, the fog-swathed mountains, the rotting wood of mill buildings, the multicolored rust of burnt-out cars, the slick hair on a limping black dog—it’s all made fresh and invigorating here.

The furtive attempts to find love look brand-new in Green’s eyes, and in the eyes of his characters. I don’t know whether I loved Deschanel’s anti-rhythmic vocal phrasings—not only do you never know what’s gonna come from her mouth, but you can’t even predict when it’ll come—or her moony, skittish eyes. But her off-kilter performance keeps you on your toes, and it’s easy to see why Schneider’s character is mesmerized by her presence. Schneider’s laconic movement is perfect, finding humor and pathos in mere winks and smirks. Most of the somber supporting cast does fine work.

The real protagonist here, though, is North Carolina. Midway through the movie, there’s a lovely montage that begins with the sun rising over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and ends with a camera panning vertically from the night stars to a campfire in the woods. In-between, we see scattered shots of the town and the natural environment going about their lives. In this three-minute sequence, several weeks elapse, and yet it’s structured so that it flows smoothly from morning to night, as if Green was capturing only the sequence of a single day. The montage is emblematic of the movie itself—incredibly detailed in its rendering of a single moment, but impressively expansive in its thematic breadth.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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