Sundance 2013: VERY GOOD GIRLS Review

     January 24, 2013

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In a female-led vehicle, the most powerful figure probably shouldn’t be the poor-man’s Garrett Hedlund.  Very Good Girls has two talented actresses in the leading roles, and their personalities and actions are defined not by their friendship, but how a boy controls that friendship.  For a couple of “girls” on the verge of going off to college, writer-director Naomi Foner has created a shockingly demeaning picture of shallow sisterhood and male-dependency.  Very Good Girls celebrates a friendship that shouldn’t exist by basing it around the kind of man who doesn’t exist.

Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) are longtime friends who are spending their last summer together before going off to college.  Lilly’s world is upended when she walks in on her father (Clark Gregg) cheating on her mother (Ellen Barkin).  A couple days later, she happens to be stalked (but in a romantic way!) by David (Boyd Holbrook), an ice-cream vendor she met on the boardwalk with Gerry.  Both girls are resolved to lose their virginity by the end of the summer, and while Gerry is busy going after David, David is busy going after Lilly.  Lilly feels the need to hide her relationship with David from Gerry, but further angst creeps in, and Lilly continues to act like a doofus.

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Foner doesn’t seem to grasp that the friendship depicted in her film lacks credibility when it can so easily be torn asunder.  Furthermore, it’s tough to believe that Lilly would essentially “cheat” on her best friend when she’s so pissed at for her father for cheating.  Lilly’s push to get her mother to forgive her father may be a subconscious attempt at trying to get forgiveness for her own actions, but we rarely see a shred of guilt when she’s with David.  When only see a handful of emotions from Lilly: guilt around Gerry, anger around Daddy, dopey love with David.

David is the catalyst for the conflict between Gerry and Lilly, so he should probably be a far more compelling figure.  This should be a guy who could conceivably break apart BFFs.  Lilly’s and Gerry’s feelings for David quickly push past the need to get laid by the World’s Dreamiest Guy.  In all fairness, he’s almost Spider-Man: he’s handsome, he’s a photographer, and he can climb up the side of Lilly’s house because his special-sense was going off to alert him that she was in the shower.  Holbrook exacerbates the problem by trying to channel Ryan Gosling, but only giving one facial expression—head bowed and eyes up.  By the end, the character’s role in the script has gone from shallow to infuriating as Foner hammers home the importance of how men are supposed to define female friendships.

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I feel a little bad for how Foner sees how women are supposed to relate to each other under these circumstances.  Lilly and Gerry don’t have to be likable characters, but they have to be believable characters whose lives and actions aren’t completely dependent on the men in their lives (men who spout gag-inducing lessons like “Sometimes it’s easier for others to forgive us than it is to forgive ourselves.”)  Very Good Girls wants to put its female friendship front-and-center, but Foner’s tone-deaf and contrived picture always has more love for a phony love story.

Rating: F

Click here for all our Sundance 2013 coverage.  Click on the corresponding links for my previous reviews:

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