“A mean-spirited coming-of-age film that is never funny”
What’s the worst thing about Dirty Girl?
Is it Juno Temple as Danielle, the “dirty girl” proclaimed by the title? Surely not. Everyone loves Juno Temple. But then again, she’s so damn aggravating in this film that I’m not sure who I want to shoot first, me or her. She looks like she studied at the Hollywood School of Generically Unpleasant High-School Girls (with classes taught by Rachel McAdams), graduated with a B-, then completed a postgraduate course at the Academy of Made-for-TV Movie Crying.
Is it Jeremy Dozier, getting second billing as (in the uncomfortable words of Dirty Girl’s marketing team) the “chubby, gay Clarke”? No. Don’t get me wrong, he’s terrible in this film, but this is his first screen performance and he’s not had much work since. I just feel bad for the guy. You can tell he’s trying, and sometimes there are ghosts of a good performance lurking in the shadows of his gormless stare.
Is it William H. Macy? He’s bad, but like Dozier I just feel sorry for him. Usually a fine actor, here he looks like he’s stumbled onto the wrong studio lot and is trying to work out where the exit is.
Is it Milla Jovovich? Definitely not – in fact I think she might be the best thing about Dirty Girl. That doesn’t mean she’s good, but at least she isn’t so annoying that I want to squeeze my fingernails into my palms until they bleed.
None of the other cast members really have enough screen time to qualify as the worst thing about Dirty Girl, which means that we must look elsewhere to bestow this honour.
Is it the slapdash production design that pays so little attention to period detail that you’d be hard-pressed to name the decade in which the film takes place were it not for the soundtrack blaring minor eighties hits whenever it gets half an excuse? (When it all takes place in schmaltzy fantasyland, who even cares what era it is?)
Come to think of it, is it the soundtrack, which seems purpose-built for people who obnoxiously declare “I LOVE eighties music!” to anyone in earshot whenever they hear gated reverb on a snare drum?
Or is it the score, which deploys those irritating orchestral squelches before and after any ‘comedy’ happens, with all the subtlety of someone holding a neon sign saying: “PLEASE LAUGH”? (And don’t even get me started on the sappy piano plonking every time we’re supposed to feel sad.)
Is it the final scene, a scene so forced and rotten that I’d rather claw my brain out through my eye sockets than even think about it again?
The truth is, it’s none of these things. Dirty Girl would be pretty awful if it had just the above faults, but it’s worse than that.
The worst thing about Dirty Girl the way it treats its characters. Particularly “chubby, gay Clarke”, who might’ve been a passable character (and I’m sure Dozier could’ve been much better) were he not beaten down by writer-director Abe Sylvia’s insistence that he be either a laughing stock or a pathetic object of pity. Sylvia acts as a Victorian freakshow ringmaster who prods his exhibits to elicit a reaction from his audience, like Bytes in The Elephant Man, only less likeable.
A humane audience must wonder why we are expected to laugh at such cruelty. Clarke is fat. He dances. A closeup of his belly tells us this is meant to be funny. It’s the “truffle shuffle” from The Goonies, without the self-awareness. Similarly, most of the first half’s ‘comedy’ is Danielle being homophobic or otherwise unpleasant to Clarke. This is apparently funny to Sylvia.
But wait! In the second half, Danielle grows to love her “chubby, gay” friend, and they both find self-confidence and acceptance! The first half is just the low parts of their character arcs! Well, maybe, but Clarke’s self-confidence comes from having sex with a hitchhiker, and his acceptance comes from stripping in front of a full biker bar. He’s sixteen. As for Danielle, her arc is so fake and insincere that it doesn’t even come close to redeeming her character. Oh, and there’s a scene where she strips as well. She’s also sixteen. Ugh.
So, there you have it. The worst thing about Dirty Girl is its meanness. Now that we’ve got to the bottom of that, let’s move on and never speak of this abomination again.
Dir: Abe Sylvia
Prod: Rob Paris, Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen
Cast: Juno Temple, Jeremy Dozier, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy