‘The Girl’ Movie Review – Duel Conflicts, No Scope
Independent movies are unique partly for their budgets. The good thing is themes are cheap…you don’t need money to tell a good thematic story. I just wish David Riker’s The Girl could convey this a little better because the remnants of a theme and grandiose social statement appear on the surface, but the entire movie doesn’t look at it in a “big picture” kind of way.
Led somewhat by her father’s (Will Patton) actions, Ashley (Abbie Cornish) decides to start smuggling illegal immigrants across the Mexico-United States border. When her plan inevitably goes awry, she’s left caring for a young Mexican girl, Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), who was separated from her mother.
Ashley’s backstory is one that will get certain audience members automatically on her side. At the beginning of the movie, her son was taken away from her and placed in foster care. She blames her lack of income and shady housing situation as the reason. Knowing the money she can get by smuggling immigrants, she uses this misguided justification to break the law.
Of course, when Rosa comes into her life, Ashley must take on a motherly role as a form of both survival and redemption.
Now, it does seem like a pretty good premise and conflict to tackle. It has widespread social implications, and Riker and company can tackle the picture with a limited budget. The problems come when they miss the opportunity to connect Ashley with the audience. Furthermore, they miss the opportunity to connect an automatically politically-ripe context with the bigger societal picture.
In other words, they go 0-for-2.
It’d be hard to do both of these simultaneously – think of how impressive it’d be – but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t succeed in at least one aspect. Cornish’s performance was restrained, which isn’t necessarily bad, but the root of her character’s inconsistencies comes from her lack of empathy and support for Rosa. Having lost her child (in a different way) at the beginning, you’d think Ashley would have shown more compassion.
The slack isn’t picked up elsewhere, either, because Ashley’s father disappears for a good portion of the film. There’s no background to Ashley’s life, and there’s definitely not enough story to infer what she’s gone through up to the point of losing her child.
So what is in the film? With widespread potential, but an ultimately narrow scope, The Girl is a lot of silence with a lot less substance than you’d expect. It’s lacking a giant score that may seem deliberate but often robs any suspense.
Okay, I’ll concede it’s never supposed to be “suspense” per se, but it is supposed to be emotional, right? Those moments didn’t resonate with me and probably won’t resonate with most audience members.
This largely negative attack is perhaps a little overdone – yes, at least David Riker tried to make something socio-political with his narrative – but it’s hard to overlook the overtly melodramatic aspects. With little substance, in the form of characters not conflict, The Girl is summed up with the final shot: not knowing whether it’s about the struggles of immigrant America or a failing mother. Based on this movie, I’m not sure it says much about either.
The Girl opens in limited release this weekend. It can be seen in New York first, and it will expand more next weekend.
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