David Gordon Green’s debut film – 2000’s George Washington – was a slow, beautifully-shot slice of Southern life heavily influenced by the languid style of Terrence Malick. His follow-up has a similarly rural North Carolina setting but is more concentrated in its story-telling – instead of portraying a community and the effect that one event has on that community, the focus here is just two young individuals and the effect they have on each other.
Noel (Zooey Deschanel) is the younger sister of small town layabout Tip (Shea Whigham), who returns home after six years at boarding school. Now 18-years-old, flirtatious and attractive, she immediately catches the eye of Tip’s friends, in particular his best friend Paul (Paul Schneider). Trouble is, Tip knows what Paul is like – a nice guy, but a terrible womaniser, who has left a chain of broken hearts across the town. Nevertheless, Paul and Noel find a connection they have not felt with anyone before and a tentative relationship begins.
All the Real Girls is a drama, but Green’s interests aren’t really in the dramatic. Scenes that in another film would have been a critical moment – Tip confronting Paul about his intentions towards Noel for example – are diffused by the director’s inventive editing style. The film is largely chronological, but the way Green overlays the dialogue from one scene over the visuals of another, and the way he takes time out of the main story to show us things like the beautiful Carolina landscape, a group of men sitting round talking or a two-legged dog hopping down the street creates a dreamy, dislocated atmosphere. Green directs with a beguiling assurance, helped enormously by Tim Orr's gorgeous photography.
The whole cast provide excellent, naturalistic performances, but Zooey Deschanel is the film's greatest asset. Her Noel is sparkling and funny but haunted by some ghosts in her past and scared about the inexperience – both sexual and in relationships generally – that six years at boarding school have left her with. Schneider has considerable charm too, and there is a sweet, believable chemistry between the pair. Their relationship hits a major snag an hour in, but it’s the sort of problem that many couples encounter, and happily Green isn’t looking for any convenient, Hollywood resolutions.
There are other relationships too – Paul still lives with his mother who works as a clown for children’s parties, and while Green doesn’t tell us too much about her, life has clearly dealt her some bad cards. Paul’s friendship with Tip also reveals another side of his character, and just as Paul is suddenly made to grow up when he finds a girl he actually cares for, so Tip is forced to do some serious thinking when he learns that his casual girlfriend is pregnant. All the Real Girls may be a slight tale, but it’s a warm, bittersweet, very real one.
American indie director with a strong visual sense. Film school graduate Green made a big impression with his debut film, the powerful drama George Washington, while 2003's All the Real Girls was similarly well-received. An unexpected change of pace appeared when he directed stoner comedy Pineapple Express, the largest success of his career to that point, following it up with the widely reviled Your Highness. In contrast, the acclaimed Joe represented a return to his indie drama roots. After a lot of series television, he enjoyed his biggest hit with the 2018 Halloween sequel.