6 April 2003 | lawprof
First Love: Appalachia or Gotham, the Pain's the Same
Low budget and low tech, director David Gordon Green's "All the Real Girls" first struck viewer nerves at Sundance and it will do so everywhere.
Set in Appalachia with shots of the beautiful mountains juxtaposed with a town that never knew prosperity and is left behind in today's North Carolina where the Research Triangle is where it's at, this is a truly affecting and universal story of first love. It's told honestly, without either director's affectation or cast overacting. The story has soul.
Zooey Deschanel plays, outstandingly, a girl, "Noel," returned from boarding school where she's been since age twelve. She plays the trombone and doesn't want to go to college. She's never had a real job and seems not to have acquired much if any ambition or sophistication while away from home. She's a virgin and it's clear that hardly any of her contemporaries who didn't leave town are even remotely chaste. In fact, the suggestion is that most sleep with virtually all the young guys. Including two, "Paul," played by Paul Schneider and his best friend "Tip," portrayed with a brooding intensity by Shea Wigham. Tip is also Noel's brother and protective of her he is. So when his formerly carefree gangbanging bud, Paul, falls head over heels for Noel and she reciprocates he has issues.
The story is universal: the joy and pain of a serious first love, the pitfalls of communication, the unawareness of how words told and events improvidently related can be like mines going off. The simple but inevitable price exacted by inexperience and not just sexual.
There is a quiet and achingly familiar reality to Noel's and Paul's relationship. Anyone honest will recognize himself or herself from some early life. Anyone who genuinely doesn't has missed some pain but at a price. Director Green unflinchingly unravels the mysteries of growing wiser, a necessary but in some ways sad departure from innocence.
Without drugs or crime or a social commentary on the moribund economy of a gorgeous region, the film focuses on the two young people and their families and friends. They are recognizable, worthy of caring about.
When Paul, trying to understand Noel's not wholly consistent emotions and actions, blurts out that he's not that smart, a number of people in the audience chortled and several yelled out "No, you're not." They didn't understand that his comment wasn't self-denigratory but a nakedly honest confession of confusion and fear of loss. Haven't we all experienced that?