David Gordon Green's indie debut, George Washington, garnered rave reviews across the board, so expectations have been running high for this sophomore effort. Yet oddly, All The Real Girls feels less mature than his first film.
Once again we're back in Green's favourite stamping ground, a rust-belt North Carolina industrial burg (it was shot in Marshall, NC) that's sliding lazily into economic decline. And as before, Tim Orr's striking photography lends lyrical beauty to the rundown surroundings, favouring railroad tracks and old tyres every bit as much as peaceful woodland streams and distant blue-smoke mountains. This time, however, the drama played out against the exquisitely shot backdrop verges on the banal.
It centres around a group of friends in their early 20s, gently idling their time away in flirting and drinking. Twenty-two-year-old Paul (Paul Schneider, who co-scripted) has enjoyed casual affairs with numerous girls, always backing off from any hint of commitment. But his attitude suddenly changes when Noel (Zooey Deschanel), sister of his best friend Tip (Shea Whigham), gets home from boarding school. Noel is 18, smart, pretty and a virgin. Unused to a girl like this, he scarcely dares kiss her, let alone take things further.
Boy gets girl, boy loses girl - the action's played out with charm and offbeat eccentricity, but we've been here a little too often. What's more, Green's trademark quirky dialogue now and then turns ditsy. "I had a dream," Noel tells Paul, "that I was so happy I invented peanut butter." Even Deschanel, whose appealing performance is by far the best thing in the film, can't pull off lines like that.