Very Good Girls

2015-06-05 08:19

What it's about:

Lily and Gerri are two very different best friends spending time together in the last summer before they both head off to different colleges. But what starts off as a lot of fun in the sun is soon complicated by family problems, treacherous secrets and a love triangle with an older boy that they both hope will take their virginities before the summer ends.

What we thought:

Very Good Girls is the sort of film that you can't help but really, really want to like. Its basic coming-of-age plot is promising enough on its own terms but throw in a top notch cast, led by increasingly impressive young actresses, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen, and a highly acclaimed screenwriter making her directorial debut, and you have a recipe for something that should be great indeed. Or, at least, very good.

Sadly, Very Good Girls is actually quite bad. Naomi Foner has always taken her sweet time between scripts (busy raising her two kids, Maggie and Jake Gyllehaal, perhaps?) but it's hard to believe that in the eight years between Bee Season and Very Good Girls, she couldn't have come up with a better script than what we get here. It's funny, considering that she has been writing scripts since the '70s and this is only her first time in the directors chair, that its her writing, rather than her direction that disappoints here.

There's nothing spectacular about her direction, to be sure, but it has that competent, unfussy feel to it that brings to mind people like Rob Reiner or even Clint Eastwood: directors who do their best to get out of the way of the stories they're trying to tell. Sadly though, unlike all but the worst of Reiner or Eastwood's oeuvres, the story here is mostly a waste of a perfectly decent premise and a an occasionally odd but largely impressive cast.

Dakota Fanning, who suffers worst here in spite of (or is that because of?) her being the film's chief protagonist, Lilly, tries her best to breathe some life into a character that is little more than a collection of teen-angst clichés. It's not hard to see why she is such a misery, mind you, as her WASPy family is headed up by two of the most annoying parents to hit our screen in a long, long time (Clark Gregg and Ellen Barkin doing their best but drowning in the awfulness of their roles) but that doesn't change just how one-note her character is.

Elizabeth Olsen as Gerri, on the other hand, gets a far more interesting character to play with but one with far less screen time, and her obnoxiously hippy dippy family (themselves headed up by the bizarro world pairing of Richard Dreyfus, who gets the best lines in the film, and Demi Moore, who doesn't) are at least far more tolerable than their self-obsesses, passive aggressive WASP counterparts.

Either way though, none of these actors (along with a similarly underused Peter Sarsgaard)  are done any favours by this film, though none are as badly served as Boyd Holbrook as the object of the girls' desire, David. We are told that this guy is the paragon of virtue and that maybe, just maybe, these super-flawed girls don't really deserve this walking slab of studly awesomeness but we are shown someone who is, at very best, dull as dishwater and, at worst, (and he's mostly at worst) as a creepy douchebag who gets girls to read Sylvia Plath to him as a way of seducing them. After about ten minutes with the guy, I wanted to stick my own head in an oven!

And it's not like the plot around these rubbish characters actually excuses how much hard work they are. Had this been a down and dirty, gritty, cinema verite look at troubled adolescent then, well, it would probably still be annoying but at least it would be somewhat forgiveable. The problem is that the script is so beholden to coming of age Hollywood movies of the past (think everything from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to the Way, Way back) that it never feels like anything more than a particularly grating also-ran. And that's before it devolves into the absolute worst of dopey love-triangle clichés.

What a colossal disappointment.

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