Tag Archives: Zooey Deschanel

All the Real Girls (2003)

No one can spin a muted, heartbreaking indie yarn quite like David Gordon Green. His 2008 masterpiece (too strong of an adjective?), Snow Angels, tackles death, alcoholism, and domestic abuse all in one neat, disturbing little 107 minute package. Going back, the second entry to his catalogue, 2003’s All the Real Girls, may not be so mentally gruelling, but this tale of small-town love certainly still packs an emotional punch.

Paul Schneider (who co-wrote the screenplay with Green) and Zooey Deschanel star as Paul and Noel, two people trapped by the limits of their small southern community. Noel is the younger sister of Paul’s best friend, Tip (Shea Wigham), and when she returns from boarding school and starts a tentative relationship with womanizing Paul, Tip is none too pleased. But it turns out that Tip is just the first of many roadblocks for Paul and Noel, and All the Real Girls follows the ups and downs of their relationship in a very realistic, understated way.

Part of what makes the film feel so realistic is the halting, stream-of-consciousness dialogue. And none of the actors seemed to embrace these unintentionally hilarious conversations as much as Danny McBride, who plays one of Paul’s friends, the wonderfully named Bust-Ass. McBride has recently risen to prominence thanks to his role in a Green’s 2008 stoner comedy, Pineapple Express, but his comedic chops even shine through the dreary setting and longing gazes here. Whether he’s asking his love interest if she just farted or dismissing restaurants that serve waffles as too “fancy”, everything about McBride’s performance is surprisingly affectionate and charming.

Schneider also stands out, giving a soulful take on a character that could easily have come across as slimy. He’s a small-town version of a playboy, but Schneider’s vulnerability and the sparkle in his eye makes Paul a character that the audience roots for.

Deschanel bats her big doe eyes and says psedo-intellectual things like, “Sometimes I like to pretend that I only have ten seconds to live”, and is all-around complicated. I probably would’ve been more taken with the character if I hadn’t already seen Deschanel play the exact same role in (500) Days of Summer, The Go-Getter, and The Good Life (all of which came out after All the Real Girls, to be fair), but Deschanel is at the best that I’ve seen her in the high-drama moments here.

All the Real Girls is a film that takes its time in developing characters and atmosphere, and doesn’t concern itself much with plot or the tying up loose ends. However, its slow pace begins to drag slightly in the second half, oddly, as the drama is cranked up to an all-time high. Green’s strength is in the bonds between his characters more than in the events that happen to them over the course of the film. We get a few too many scenes of characters wallowing in their own pity, and the film begins to meander slightly in its own messiness. And perhaps the biggest flaw of the second half of the film is that nearly all of the fascinating, diverse supporting characters get pushed to the background, used only as outlets for Paul’s emotions.

Despite the arguable shortcomings of the film’s second half, Green has crafted an effective take on the small joys and pitfalls of love. Only 27 years old when the film was made, Green tackles the quiet subject matter with considerable finesse. His filmmaking style is unobtrusive, but evokes a wonderful atmosphere. Paul and his friends live in a lonely, dank town, and the downbeat backdrop suits the rest of the film incredibly well.

The film that All the Real Girls is most often compared to is Zach Braff’s 2004 directorial debut, Garden State. Though Garden State may be the more wholly successful film, All the Real Girls feels less self-conscious and flaunts its average-dude roots, rather than amping up the drama with a hip soundtrack. It’s a must-see for fans of Green or Deschanel, and those who are willing to take a meandering journey through every aspect of love will likely enjoy this modest little film.



The Good Life (2007)

The Good Life is a film that I’d wanted to see for a while, since Patrick Fugit and Zooey Deschanel are two of my favourite young actors, and it was apparently nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. I finally got around to watching it last night, and I have to say, it was one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while. The premise seemed interesting (if not a little played out), about a young man who loves old Hollywood movies and feels like an outsider in a small football-obsessed town. But despite the best efforts of the cast, this is just a relentlessly dreary, poorly written film.

Mark Webber plays Jason, a young man from a poor background. After his father’s death, even the money from his two dead-end jobs isn’t enough to pay the electric bill. He has dreams of moving out of his small Nebraska town, but between his dependent mother (Deborah Rush) and the declining elderly owner of the movie theatre where he works (Harry Dean Stanton), Jason feels like too many people rely on him. He meets Frances (Deschanel), a supposedly intriguing young woman who Jason can relate to. Of course, everything goes tragically awry, and a bunch of mopey, quasi-philosophical voice-over narration ensues.

One of the storylines that I did like was the one between Jason and Gus, the ailing owner of the movie theatre. I thought their bond was actually believable, and that relationship had drama and interest without the movie having to force it on with ridiculous situations. I would have liked to see more about Jason’s sister (Drea De Matteo) and her husband, because they seemed like interesting characters, but they were only in two or three scenes in the entire movie. A lot of other talented actors befell the same fate. Patrick Fugit shines in the small part he has, but his character never really goes anywhere. Chris Klein occasionally pops up to play an over-the-top ex-high school football player, but the whole storyline about him terrorizing Jason is just ridiculous. Bill Paxton (also an executive producer here) is in two scenes, and seems to be in the movie solely to blatantly explain the “twist” of the story to Jason. Every character seems to have some singular, tragic characteristic that defines them, but beyond that, their characters are never really developed. They’re all just conveniently placed to revolve around Jason’s story.

And though he didn’t have much to work with, I didn’t like Mark Webber as Jason. I understand that the character is supposed to be introverted and restrained, but Webber just didn’t have any presence on the screen. He seems like a potentially interesting actor, but here, he doesn’t show us much of anything, besides some forlorn stares. Deschanel at least brings some life to the screen, but her character is so absurd, and she doesn’t seem remotely close to an actual person. Everyone’s just a tidy little cardboard cut-out of a supposedly “quirky” character.

Let’s talk about the voice-over narration. A lot of people think it’s a cheap device, but I am a fan of voice-over narration, when it’s done well. But there is far too much of it here, and it often goes on for minutes at a time. The main character comes across so blandly that I think they were trying to make him a “deeper” character this way, but it just comes across like a poorly written high school drama class monologue. The dialogue between characters also seems forced at many points, like its only purpose is to get the minimal plot points across.

The camera work is certainly trying to be arty and “indie”, but only partially succeeds. If so much of this story revolves around Jason’s disconnect with his hometown, they should have given us a clearer picture of what this town looks like. I think that a desolate small town can be oddly beautiful, but the director partially misses the potential of building it into the story. The film did have a certain wintery atmosphere, which kind of worked, but it still didn’t feel fully developed. While a film like Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park was all about woozy atmosphere, it still managed to have interesting characters. Similarly, The United States of Leland was not a perfect film, but it had a few really fascinating characters, and still had a distinctive atmosphere. The Good Life seems like it was trying to have style and substance, but it didn’t succeed in either regard. And after building all that mood and beating its protagonist down so insistently, it throws it all away for a cheap cop-out of an ending. That was the last straw for me. Do yourself a favour and avoid this one.


Rom-Coms: The Genre I Thought I Hated

I’ve never really considered myself much of a fan of romantic comedies. I even turned down an invitation to see The Ugly Truth with some friends tonight in favour of seeing the new Harry Potter movie (and because The Ugly Truth looks fairly terrible). There’s so much mindless crap out there that’s targeted towards women looking for pointless escapism, and these so-called rom-coms usually aren’t very romantic or funny. I knew that there were a few I liked out there, but then I stumbled across Paste magazine’s list of the 17 best romantic comedies of the decade. I realise that their article is six months old, which makes it either obsolete or nostalgic in internet terms, but if you want a testament to how current I am, read the subtitle of this blog. ANYWAYS, the point of this is to say that Paste came up with a pretty good list! You can click here to read the full article. 

As they admit, they use the term “romantic comedy” pretty loosely. Personally, I never really considered Wall-E or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to be comedies, much less romantic comedies (where’s Hugh Grant? And the sappy airport endings?), but I think it was a great choice to include them. Those movies offer an alternative to the usual cheesy fare that always seems to test my gag reflexes. And while movies like Waitress, About a Boy, and High Fidelity are slightly more conventional takes on the genre, they’re also a cut above the rest. They have much better acting, and you can tell that genuine affection went into making these films. I really enjoyed all of the movies on this list that I’ve seen, so what does that say about me? Perhaps I’m not the cold-hearted realist I like to think I am? Perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with me for tearing up during the trailer for The Time Traveller’s Wife for no apparent reason? Perhaps I can enjoy movies where people don’t die and aren’t addicted to drugs and don’t have to deal with real world problems? Maybe all it takes is a good love story.

And speaking of that, here are 10 more “romantic comedies” from this decade that I really enjoyed:

10. Kate and Leopold (Kind of your typical rom-com, but the leads are charming, and the fish-out-of-water story is amusing)

9. 2 Days in Paris (Adam Goldberg is hilarious. The French setting lovely, and it manages to be both incredibly charming and funny.)

8. Meet the Parents (More of a straight comedy, but Ben Stiller goes through it all in the name of love.)

7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (It balances a film-noir spoof with a romantic side plot, and both are equally strong.)

6. Elf (Don’t even deny it.)

5. Wristcutters: A Love Story (Stories about suicide are not generally good romantic comedy fare, but this one pulls it off. Darkly funny and romantic.)

4. Definitely, Maybe (Ryan Reynold is charming, and this well-constructed, sweet story is what The Proposal wished it could be.)

3. Almost Famous (Great coming-of-age story that happens to involve rock stars.)

2. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (It received mixed reviews, but I thought Michael Cera and Kat Dennings had great chemistry.)

1. Garden State (Okay, this one’s a little sappy – and if I remember correctly, the climax takes place in an airport – but even I could not resist cheering for the perfect hipster couple.)

EDIT: Oh, yeah, and how good does (500) Days of Summer look?! I’m dying to see it, but it’s still in pretty limited release, so it’s not playing near me.