All the Real Girls
In the immortal words of Nazareth, circa 1981, "love hurts." Especially young love, when your feelings are raw and awkward; even when you're happy, you're still in pain, because everything is so intense. Few recent films have captured that blissful agony as poignantly as David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls (2003), a wistful meditation on love and redemption. Set in the kind of small, sleepy North Carolina mill-town in which everybody knows everybody else and half of them are related to each other Girls follows the relationship between local bad boy Paul (Paul Schneider) and his best friend Tip's younger sister, Noel (Zooey Deschanel). Mechanic/odd-jobber Paul, who's slept with just about everything in town that wears skirts, is drawn to Noel's intelligence, her boarding-school-bred innocence, and her refreshing lack of affectation; this isn't a girl who's looking to play games. Despite strong objections from Tip (Shea Whigham), the two continue to see each other and end up falling deeply in love. From the start, Paul idealizes Noel he sees her almost as an angel, sent to help him transcend a life that's become increasingly dissatisfying and meaningless. But Noel is all too real like anyone else, she has faults and makes mistakes, and realizing that he can't depend on her to save him is almost Paul's undoing. Green tells the story in a series of sometimes-linear, sometimes-not vignettes and scenes, mixing quiet moments with realistically chaotic dialogue scenes and lingering golden shots of mournfully beautiful autumn countryside. His is a style of filmmaking perfectly suited to "smaller," emotional movies like All the Real Girls; he gives his audience enough time to think about the highs and lows his characters are feeling. Paul and Noel are the focus, of course and both lead actors turn in mesmerizing performances, particularly Deschanel, who underlines everything Noel says with the expressions in her huge eyes but supporting players like Whigham, Patricia Clarkson as Paul's mother Elvira, and Danny McBride as Tip and Paul's clueless friend Bust-Ass also stand out. Thanks to its subject matter, All the Real Girls packs plenty of emotional punches; thanks to its cast, those punches feel as genuine as the ones we've all taken to the gut and the heart. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the film in a lovely anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), nicely showcasing Tim Orr's cinematography. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is strong and clear; subtitle options include French, Spanish, and Portuguese. On the extras front, a pair of trailers are joined by four deleted scenes (all feature Bust-Ass, a character who obviously was carefully edited for maximum effectiveness in the final cut), an 18-minute making-of featurette (the somewhat pretentiously titled "Improv and Ensemble: The Evolution of a Film"), and a relaxed, mellow commentary track by old film-school buddies Green and Schneider. Keep-case.