The Movie Waffler First Look Review - WHITE GIRL | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - WHITE GIRL

A teenager goes to extremes in her attempts to have her boyfriend released from jail.

Review by Sue Finn (@fountainclown)

Directed by: Elizabeth Wood

Starring: Morgan Saylor, Brian 'Sene' Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, Adrian Martinez

There have been 'wide eyed girl in New York' films, 'wrong side of the tracks romance' films and 'dangerous drugs derail a promising future' films in the past, but none explored in such a realistic manner or so fearlessly played by their actors.

The thing about privilege is that most people don't realise when they have it. It's a safety net you don't acknowledge until you need it, an assurance that things will never be quite as bad as they could be. Some people spend their whole lives in this world of privilege and so are never aware that there are other worlds out there, other people who don't have safety nets or any assurance.

White Girl is the story of Leah (Morgan Saylor), newly arrived in New York City to work an internship for the summer before starting school for a future career she hasn't really bothered to define. She meets Blue (Brian Marc), a Puerto Rican small-time drug dealer on her street corner, and falls into a heady romance that comes to an abrupt end when he is arrested. She then decides to make it her mission to get him released, and it seems there is no length to which she will go.

This is at times a difficult watch; the audience can see the trouble Leah is getting into, how deep a hole she has dug for herself but it is also fascinating and compelling viewing. Because the characters seem to have no inner life or backstories to reveal to the audience, their actions become their defining qualities; the graphic sex, frequent drug taking and foolish decisions their only real features. This sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. I found it refreshing to experience this slice of life without any knowledge of motivations or solid idea of where the protagonists could end up. It’s an unembellished reminder that most people you meet don’t come with a full list of backstories and motivations; their merit  is determined by their behavior.

It's also interesting to watch a woman's struggle with her burgeoning sexuality, to realise how fluid it can be, both a gift and a curse; sometimes a bargaining chip, sometimes a weapon used against her. There are scenes where you can see the discomfort writ large upon her face, and the grey area explored here is important. You can't help but wonder at the damage the abuse of her sexuality will have later, where she will settle the events in her mind. Leah is not naive, but hedonistic and self-destructive. She knows there will be consequences for her actions down the track, she just doesn't care enough to pump the breaks when the 'now' is so vivid.

I don't believe this film is misogynistic, though I expect some reactions to it have been and will be. Had the genders been reversed however we would have had a much different film, which says more about what society believes each gender has to barter with than the filmmaker.

It would be easy to give Blue some sort of sainthood and claim he was led astray by a wanton woman, but that would be disingenuous; he was not in love with her any more than she with him. They were equally fascinated by the differences they saw in each other, no more than that. The fact that he seemed to see it as a great romance rather than what it was, shows the lack of real connections he has in his life.

You may think you've seen this film before but you haven't, not really, not like this. There have been 'wide eyed girl in new York' films, 'wrong side of the tracks romance' films and 'dangerous drugs derail a promising future' films in the past but none explored in such a realistic manner or so fearlessly played by their actors.

Saylor (of TV's Homeland) tackles this role with ferocity and bravery. She is mesmerising on screen, and achingly believable.

Marc, in the less showy role of Blue, is no less impressive, his emotions raw and naked, revealing a far softer soul than we could have anticipated, which makes the denouement all the sadder.

The final two scenes are haunting and spare and expertly realised. A more damming indictment of the apparent racism and classism of the American justice system I have yet to see on film. And director Elizabeth Wood does it all without dialogue.

Now that's impressive.