Dirty Girl (Review)

Dirty Girl

Written and Directed by Abe Sylvia

“No one likes a dirty girl” is a refrain heard periodically through the film, but I confess that I like Dirty Girl.

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

Danielle (Juno Temple) – Danielle is our titular dirty girl, the bad girl gone bad who causes trouble for everyone, especially herself. Her care-free life of doing what she wants with no consequences has come to an end both at school and at home. Her journey to find her father is the main plot quest of the picture. Juno Temple is British, so after hearing her the whole film with an Oklahoma accent, her suddenly speaking with a British accent in the Q&A was crazy.
Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) – Clarke is by far the best character in the film, the one you want to root for, to be happy. To be free. Unlike Danielle, he’s never had the chance to be who he is, and is fighting for the chance to have a chance. This is Jeremy Dozier’s first big role, and he’s awesome.
Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovich) – Danielle’s mother and a former bad girl herself, before she realized that the path she was heading down wasn’t going to end in happiness, and she grabbed onto one of the few men left in the area that wasn’t majorly defective. And it’s nice to have a reminder that Milla Jovovich can act beyond smashing zombies in the face.
Ray (William H. Macy) – He’s a single father with kids who intends to marry Sue-Ann. Ray has words with Danielle, who rejects his religious lifestyle and his family values. Ray isn’t Ned Flanders, but he’s a character who has experienced loss in his own way and is worried more about having it happen again than about the relationship itself.
Joseph (Dwight Yoakam) – The homophobic father of Clarke who spends most of the film trying to “fix” his son, and then chasing after and beating his son. What a nice guy!
Joan (herself) – Sack of flour assigned to Danielle and Clarke to be their baby. The expression on the sack of flour changes throughout the film in response to events, and is one of the best things about Dirty Girl.

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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One thought on “Dirty Girl (Review)

  1. Pingback: Dirty Girl | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit

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