Last night, I watched this film for a second time and decided that it might be one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. Granted, I still have a lot of movie watching to do in my time on Earth, but up until now, few films have touched me with their aesthetic the way that “All the Real Girls” does. Director David Gordon Green allows as much screen time to the setting – a mountainous region in the south, probably one of the Virginias or Carolinas – as he does to his actors, and it becomes a character all its own. Wondrous shots of flowing creeks or autumn trees on a mountain weave seamlessly with the story that unfolds.
The story itself follows Paul (Paul Schneider, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Green), a small-town guy who’s worked his way through almost every woman in town. Enter Noel (a wonderful Zooey Deschanel), the sister of Paul’s best friend Tip (Shea Wigham), newly returned from boarding school. She and Paul start a relationship, much to the displeasure of Tip.
What first endeared me to this film was the dialogue. It’s awkward, halting, and done in a Southern dialect, but it’s so very true to life. It can be frustrating, but how often in real life are we frustrated with the way others talk, or our own inability to correctly express how we’re feeling? The actors do a wonderful job of it, too. Being from a Southern area, I felt like I was watching a moment in the lives of real people, people that I went to high school with who weren’t as lucky as to get away to college like I did. Despite the fact that these are actors (and not unknowns, either), I always felt as if I knew them, and as if their problems were real. There’s really not an ungenuine moment in the whole of the film.
The love story presented here almost seems to be the exact opposite of the countless unbelievable romances that we see in films every year. I suppose it’s a spoiler, but there’s no happy ending (although it’s not truly unhappy either). Nothing is cut and dry, black and white. It takes the traditional storyline of, “a womanizing cad falls in love… for real this time!” and twists it around. What happens when that cad really has no other options? He’s stomped on the heart of every girl in town. What happens when a girl comes around who is pretty much his last chance, and he truly falls for her? What happens when he’s suddenly stuck in the same position that he put countless girls in in the past? These are just a few of the scenarios that it addresses. The characters also put a new spin on stereotypes (the womanizing cad is actually funny and likable, the town bad boy sleeps with the light on and once had a lady bug collection), but never do these ring false. Nor do they fall into the trap that countless indie films do, of flipping stereotypes on their heads, but being so obvious about it that it just comes across as unbearably pretentious.
When these characters come together, some interesting relationships ensue. Although Paul and Noel’s entanglement is central to the story, I also found Paul’s relationship with his mother (played by Patricia Clarkson, who does a tremendous job in a short amount of screen time) to be one of the most intriguing. They have a strong, playful relationship (he says he still lives at home with her because he just doesn’t want to see her alone), and yet there’s some underlying tension. Mom is bitter at all the men who’ve left her by the wayside (including Paul’s father, one would assume), and she’s disturbed that she sees in her son all of those men. He treats women just as she’s been treated by countless men. But, she can’t help but love him, although she is brutally honest with him (at one point, she tells him various things like, “you’re not strong, you’re not smart, but you’re funny”). She’s what really give him his heart, and it’s such a dynamic, touching, multilayered mother-son relationship.
Bottom line, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys realistic cinema (despite all the awkward moments and halting dialogue that naturally come with it), this is a film that’s been waiting for you to check it out.