I finally saw it: the

by francine Hardaway on January 24, 2003

I finally saw it: the film a festival like Sundance is supposed to be about. Of course there are 230 films here, and I only get to see 20, so I get just a taste of what’s really available, but “All the Real Girls” typified Sundance for me. It was written and directed by David Gordon Green, who looked as if he were about seventeen. And it was about the lives of high school graduates in a North Carolina mill town. It was about first love. And it was the most beautiful, emotional, lyrical film I have seen in either of my trips to Sundance. The film started slowly, with the boy and girl staring at each other, and the girl asking the boy why he has never kissed her. He tells her it’s because he’s her brother’s best friend, and she asks him to kiss her on the hand. The kiss takes forever to execute, and it’s only later that we learn the complex thoughts that must have been going through his mind: “this is Tip’s sister.” “I’ve screwed 26 other girls, why not her.” “What’s she really asking?” He has a real problem deciding between the girl and his best friend. He has another problem: he’s not fully separated from his mother yet. This first love will turn him from a boy who puts his head in his mother’s lap and does her bidding to a man who can have a serious conversation with her about his future.

All the characters in this film are slow thinkers and slow talkers. It’s not that they’re not smart; it’s that they’re not quick. On screen, we’re used to quick. But, as Green suggests, that’s not everybody. And it may not be how we fall in love. Or how we fall out of love. Especially when we’re young.

In the Q&A after the film, I heard Green say that his object was to make a film about young love that did not have the familiar setups and payoffs we usually associate with teen movies. In fact, “All the Real Girls,” except for a couple of conversations about women among the boys, looks absolutely *nothing* like a teen movie. When it’s over, you realize that it has been so powerful that the characters are engraved on your sensibility, and you wish things would turn out a little better for them in the future. Both the lovers and the friends around them grow up and mature through this first love, and as you can guess, it can’t last.

One negative comment: all the male characters looked too old to be playing seventeen-year-olds. Put that out of your mind, and this film rocks.

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