Dirty Girl (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Danielle (Juno Temple) is known as the school tramp who cares about her grades as much as she cares about offending her peers. When she sarcastically asks about the pull-out method to her very old-fashioned sex ed teacher (Jonathan Slavin), off to the principal’s office she goes. Seeing that she is unrepentant, Principal Mulray (Gary Grubbs) puts her to a remedial class, a place for so-called misfits and social rejects, where she can, hopefully, learn a lesson in terms of reeling it in so people will cease to think of her as a streetwalker. Mrs. Hatcher (Deborah Theaker) pairs the blonde with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), a gay teen with a bit of extra weight, to work on a project that involves a bag of flour named Joan.
Written and directed by Abe Sylvia, “Dirty Girl” is chuckle-inducing in parts but the story lacks cohesion. It starts off poking fun of high school stereotypes, becomes a road movie backed with great ‘80s tunes on the radio, and eventually goes on to deal with serious issues like parental neglect, physical abuse, and homophobia—all of which are touched upon just before the halfway point.
While I remained optimistic toward Sylvia’s enthusiasm in tackling his many—sometimes wild—ideas, the film needs to slow down, return to basics, and focus on some of the similarities between Danielle and Clarke before taking off on a road trip. It is clear that Clarke wants to escape from his homophobic parents (Dwight Yoakam, Mary Steenburgen) while Danielle wants to meet her biological father (Tim McGraw) in California. But what makes them such a formidable duo that we are able to root for them despite their worst disagreements? Because they come from terrible backgrounds? That is not good enough.
Danielle and Clarke hang out like most friends, typical as they come, but it takes a special kind of friendship for two people to decide to go on a road trip when the stakes are very high. If the trip goes nowhere, it means Clarke is either going to remain seeing a doctor so he can be “cured” of his homosexuality or, to his father’s insistence, he is going to be shipped off to military school in order to be “straightened” out. For Danielle, she will either end up in the streets or become a Mormon because her mother, Sue Ann (Milla Jovovich), hopes to marry Ray (William H. Macy), who very much lives and breathes Mormonism.
The film’s approach to make us laugh is forced and it comes with a price. Scenes of characters dancing salaciously do not take the film very far. In fact, it is cheapened. When something amusing happens, it is almost always coupled with some sad revelation or event. The script fails to provide a natural path from one extreme emotion to another, so when tears well up in the characters’ eyes and their voices begin to shake, the emotions being portrayed feel disingenuous. I felt the material almost begging me to care even if it has yet to provide a good reason for us to invest a little more.
Most of the images speak for themselves but, for example, I wanted Clarke to express what he thinks when his dad’s fists decide to do the talking. And why not allow the father to speak to his son about his frustration, resentment, and feelings of inadequacies for ending up with a gay son? Let him sound like a bigot. Let us hate what he stood for. That way, at least we have an idea where he is coming from. That is much more interesting than just watching someone perform redundant—and unsexy—stripper poses.