Dirty Girl is a road movie. And like most road movies, the journey is just as important as the destination. Dirty Girl’s nostalgia is present, but isn’t so over-encompassing it becomes the plot itself. The main point of Dirty Girl could have easily taken place last week or 100 years ago. Some of the societal differences would cause different wacky adventures along the way, but the same basic story would ring true.
Dirty Girl is about growing up, and about the joys and heartbreak associated with growing up. How life doesn’t always work out the way you want, but that doesn’t mean life is terrible.
The writing is great, Abe Sylvia put a lot of himself and his life in the film. The characters have believable motivations, many are probably amalgamations of people he knew growing up. As someone who grew up in the Midwest myself, I know people like a lot of the characters.
Before I continue, I must confess that TarsTarkas.NET has sold out once again as this is another free showing. The free showing was in the famed Castro theater, which is one of the best theaters in the country. In fact, of all the free showings I’ve been to so far (please see the tag Tars sells out! for more free showings), I liked Dirty Girl the best. So take that, Warrior!
But let’s get started
It is 1987 in Norman, Oklahoma. Danielle is the local bad girl, bad because she takes what she wants and scoffs at all the other girls in school. She has contempt for everything and everyone, especially her single mother Sue-Ann. Danielle is adrift through life. Her introduction is while banging her latest conquest in the back of her car, after which she just walks away before he’s even had time to zip up.
Her attitude and lack of respect in class puts her at odds with the principal, who throws her in with the slower students. There, she’s paired up with Clarke as husband and wife for a sack of flour. Danielle doesn’t care, and blows off the assignment.
Danielle’s mom Sue-Ann was just like her when she was younger, but got pregnant in high school and dropped out, the father not even knowing he had a child. Sue-Ann has finally found a good man, a Mormon named Ray with two kids of his own and his own ideas about raising children. As hokey as he seems, he really isn’t that bad, but is as flawed as the rest of humanity.
After being rejected by her latest target, Danielle realizes the only way she’ll be able to get back to her old life of being free to do whatever she wants without being mocked is to get out of the slow kids class, so she reluctantly starts working with Clarke. The diary they’re required to keep is the narrative device for the film.
After naming the baby Joan, their next step is to construct a family tree. Danielle never knew who her father was, only having a picture of him. Clarke locates him in an old yearbook, and a trip to the house nearby reveals he’s long since moved to California without any knowledge that Danielle even exists.
Clarke has problems of his own, he’s gay beyond gay (according to a psychiatrist, he’s 65% homosexual!), but his dad is having none of that. He grows increasingly confrontational as the film progresses, but Danielle is enough of a shield and an escape to work against Joseph’s homophobia for the time being.
After the discover of naked men posters by his mom, Clarke has to run to avoid a major beatdown by his father before he’s shipped off to military school. He and Danielle then head off to California to find her father
Their journey takes them across most of the southwest (interestingly enough, I traveled along most of the same highway this past Christmas!) and adventures include hitchhikers and strip shows. The changing faces of Joan and the journal narration helping to connect the events and show the characters’ growth.
Danielle and Clarke learn to care about what is important to them, and about what real friendship is. The conclusion to the journey is realistic as it is heartbreaking and open-ended. It’s life. But don’t worry, we get an emotionally satisfying ending. The journey was just the beginning for these characters, they have their whole lives ahead of them, and they won’t be sleepwalking through it, hiding and ashamed.
Besides the stellar performances by the two mains, many of the supporting characters shine themselves. Mary Steenburgen gives a wonderful performance as Clarke’s mom.
Dirty Girl is a very gay friendly film. Not surprisingly, the director/writer is out himself,
the film is packed with characters who are gay, some more out than others. And as Abe Sylvia grew up in Oklahoma as an overweight gay kid, you have one guess as to which character is based on him!
And as a special bonus at the screening, we got a free concert from Melissa Manchester, whose songs feature prominently throughout the film. If more movies ended with concerts, I might start going to the theater more! The only bad part was the actor playing Clarke, Jeremy Dozier, wasn’t there.
Rated 9/10 (teacher, shocked, principal horse, worst president ever, surprise chalkboard kaiju battle, no-tell motel, magic fingers, drop the baby, just your average hitchhiker)
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