Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Naomi Foner
Screenplay: Naomi Foner
Runtime: 91 minutes.
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Richard Dreyfuss.
Trailer: “You can, the question is will you?” (warning: you probably shouldn't.)
Plot: Lilly and Gerri are best friends on their way to college, but still burdened with their virginity. In their last summer at home, they meet street artist and hipster douche David, who displays a cultivated disinterest in the girls. Gerri is keen to see him again, but Lilly proves his true target and is slowly seduced by his charms. But will the two girl’s friendship last this all-too-predictable love triangle?
Review: Very Good Girls is the debut of writer-director Naomi Foner, a slight but inoffensive teen drama that will likely put most audiences to sleep. The film follows the beats of a generic coming-of-age story as two best friends contemplate the lives they are leaving behind and their inevitable transition to college. One point that weighs heavily upon them is their lack of summer romance and their still intact virginities; an indication of just how tired the script for this film is. During scene after scene, you’ll have the faint feeling of having seen this somewhere before, done better. Foner’s startling lack of originality is only made palatable through her competence as a director, and the performances of Fanning and Olsen – who give it their best shot, despite the dull material.
At the centre of the drama is uber-creep Douchie McDoucherton David, who is about the worst and most predatory combination of elements one could imagine for a twenty-something who spends his time seducing vulnerable seventeen year olds. In a chance encounter on the beach, the two girls are introduced to this antagonist – who engages in a calculated show of disdain which the director intends to pass as charm or cool, making witty remarks such as that the ice creams he sells are basically ‘industrial waste.’ I thought maybe he was getting a jump start on the lucrative Kronos industry aboard Snowpiercer, but no – he’s just a dick. Gerri shows interest, while Lilly shows disinterest which marks her as the antelope separated from the pack. Sleazy David is quick to engage.
This initial engagement takes the form of David’s sensitive, artistic distinguishing feature – taking derivative photographs of street scenes with a $7, 000 Leica camera he has somehow acquired. He posts a photo worthy of a high school graduation art show of Lilly’s turned profile, asking ‘where do you live?’ Not creepy at all David, not creepy at all. But let’s pause and consider poor Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio who contends, beleaguered, every day with the seas of shitty hipster art being posted all around the city. Take a moment to lament the millions of taxpayers’ dollars wasted removing this banal self expression, and the poor masses who spy the next street installation and sigh at its predictability. Please, David and co., for the good of humanity, stop with what is the laziest and lamest art attack in the history of faux-samizdat expression. No one wants to look at your shitty pictures posted to the side of our mailboxes. But I digress.
Lilly won’t go on a date with David when she meets him again, but in a spectacular piece of teen slasher film logic, furnishes him with her name and address. Smart move, Lilly (yes, you’ll find yourself commenting sarcastically along with the film like this too – again, really, really appalling script). David then engages in what I can only describe as the D.E.N.N.I.S system from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the psychopath’s means of creating dependency and generating casual sex from a vulnerable young woman. David’s hipster version consists of:
- Create mystery; flick back fringe casually and disinterestedly; (check)
- Entice the girl with hipsterish hobby, seem sensitive and artistic with hidden depths, but also a ‘yeah, whatever’ hint of troubled; (check)
- Invite her over to a ridiculously lavish loft you’ve borrowed from a wealthy friend, but take her upstairs to the humble but tastefully furnished room where you casually display all of your “art”; (check – and how. David displays dozens of photographed faces of strangers staring across the walls of the room, reminiscent of that scene in every thriller where they finally break into the serial killer’s domain, but all that is left are his journals and the hundreds of eyes he’s torn out of magazines and pasted on the walls. So, great work there David. Not creepy at all.)
- Get her to read poetry, displaying your depth but making her work for it, and a nice gift you can manipulatively drop later; (check – and boy does David pull out all the stops here, unironically getting Lilly to read Sylvia Plath’s Daddy. Sadly, she didn’t get to the verse ‘If I've killed one man, I've killed two-- / The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years, if you want to know.’ Plath’s warning to Lilly; sadly missed.)
- Kiss her; but then suddenly break it off. Say ‘I think you should leave’ in a classic withholding manoeuvre. (check – because, you know, David is a complicated guy)
- Occasion intimacy by stroking her hand under the table at an open mic performance of her best friend who has a crush on you. (check – and I’m just going to come out and say it, getting creepy as shit, David. James Franco grade creepy.)
- Sleep with her on the family’s dusty, abandoned garage floor; (check – because there’s nowhere nicer for a girl’s first time; hilariously, Lilly comes back to the spot later to sadly reminisce.)
- Creep through the bathroom window while she’s having a shower and her mother is talking to her outside. (check, etc, etc – you get the picture.)
By the end of the film, David has become so creepy and manipulative that he’s smashed the Edward ‘I watch you when you sleep’ Cullen ceiling for creepiness. Pile on uninspired dialogue like ‘I just feel like I don’t understand you’ and ‘I believe you want to tell me things I already know’ (again, creepy as shit David, no one says stuff like that), and you’ve got yourself Very Good Girls. There’s also the respective melodramas that the girls have at home, but these are really only backdrops to prompt the next act of the Lilly-David-Gerri love triangle. Lilly’s family lives in the Francis household from Mad Men, and it seems like they forgot to tell Kiernan Shipka they are filming something else now, so she’s still stuck there in the background. To be fair, Ellen Barkin’s Norma could be mistaken for a drunken, medicated Betty Francis.
The sophistication of this film is encapsulated in a line delivered by Gerri to best friend Lilly, when she remarks ‘maybe she’s right, you’ve got to be able to trust the people who mean something to you’ in an attempt at subtle foreshadowing. The rest of the film is simply waiting for the inevitable fight between friends, and the completely expected reconciliation that will close the film. The sun drenched, sprinkler soaked ending couldn’t come quickly enough.
Rating: Two girls in a very stupid movie.