Written and directed by Abe Sylvia and shot in just three weeks, there was a lot of buzz going around about Dirty Girl not all that long ago, but as is so typical with the movie industry hype machine, a lot of it was just flat out unwarranted, at least as far as the finished product is concerned. The story is set in 1987 and it follows the exploits of a young woman named Danielle (Juno Temple) who is the so-called 'dirty girl' of her Norman, Oklahoma high school. Danielle's got a tendency to act out, and after the school has enough of her they send her to the special education class, where she winds up in a parenting class with her portly gay pal Clarke (Jeremy Dozier).
Shortly after, Danielle's mother, Sue-Ann (Milla Jovavich), announces that she's going to be marrying her unusually conservative Mormon boyfriend, Ray (William H. Macy), she decides that she's had enough. She and Clarke decide to hit the road and head west so that Danielle can go to California to try and track down the father she never knew. Since Clarke's parents (Dwight Yoakam and Mary Steenburgen) seems intent on sending his son to military school, he's definitely more than happy to go along for the ride - and of course, along the way they have the sort of deep conversations and life changing experiences that you expect from a movie like this.
Dirty Girl has some really great moments, most of which stem from the on-screen chemistry that Temple and Dozier share. They put themselves into their characters with some obvious commitment to their respective roles and as such, we can buy them in their parts. There's a likeability to them as an unlikely team that goes a long way towards making this film as watchable as it is - but then the script will dive head first into clichés and sappiness and things start to unravel a little quickly. The acting here is strong across the board, with Jovavich cast against type as a Mid-Western mom (far removed from the sexpots and action heroines she's best known for playing but still looking as beautiful as ever) and doing well in the part and Macy as reliable as ever as the rather quirky step-dad to be. Yoakam and Steenburger make an interesting couple as well, obviously uncomfortable with the way that their son has turned out and not all that willing to accept his lifestyle at this point in the game. All of this should have lead to more and more interesting character development than we wind up getting by the time at the end credits hit the screen, and more should have been made of the relationship between the domineering homophobe that Yoakam plays and the meek but obviously caring mother played by Steenburgen.
On a visual level the film is a success. Sylvia sets his film in 1987 but obviously intentionally decks everyone out in garb seemingly more inspired by the seventies, indicating that the state in which all of this takes place (and the state in which the writer/director grew up) is a bit behind the times when compared to some of the more typically progressive and accepting states on the east and west coasts. There are some obvious and understandable digs made towards conservative 'Bible Belt' culture here The movie does make great use of color though, and the cinematography is nice. The pop soundtrack that is used throughout most of the movie also suits the tone of the film very well (Melissa Manchester gets full marks here), and the picture is well paced and well edited. Had it not gone sappy on us a few too many times, it could have been an interesting throwback style look at the difficulties of trying to find yourself and in growing up in an area where you don't quite fit. Instead, it never quite reaches its potential and winds up fairly predictable and occasionally just too sappy for its own good.
Anchor Bay's 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a good one, offering up crisp detail and nice color reproduction throughout. Some minor compression artifacts pop up in a few of the darker spots but other than that, there's really not much to complain about here. Contrast looks to be set right, there are no issues with heavy edge enhancement and the picture is clean and clear from start to finish.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, with optional closed captioning provided in English and subtitles provided in Spanish - no alternate language options or subtitles are provided here. The movie sounds good, with nice use made of the rear channels to spread out the soundtrack rather well. Some clever directional effects are used throughout the movie very effectively while dialogue stays clear and easy to understand.
The most substantial extra on the disc is a commentary track with writer/director Abe Sylvia where he talks about his inspiration for the film, why various performers were cast in their respective roles, the use of certain songs on the soundtrack and the locations used throughout the movie. It's a fairly well rounded talk - this was obviously his baby and he knows the in's and out's of the movie and its characters better than anyone - so if you enjoyed the movie, this is probably the best way to peel back the layers so to speak. That said, if you didn't dig it, this won't change your mind at all even if Sylvia comes across as a likeable enough person here with a decent sense of humor and a good wit.
Aside from that, there are also a handful of deleted scenes included here, roughly ten minutes or so, and they're all fairly inconsequential and would have really only served to pad the running time rather than add much to the story. Previews for a few other Anchor Bay properties are included as are menus and chapter stops.
Dirty Girl aims high but despite a few interesting moments here and there, can't quite pull it all off. Sylvia and company sure did accomplish a lot with a limited budget and a tight shooting schedule, but the script and the characters needed a bit more work than they got here. When it works, it works well, but those moments are too few and far between to warrant a whole hearted recommendation. Anchor Bay's DVD looks and sounds very good and the commentary is a decent one - you could certainly do a lot worse than this, but it's probably best served as a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.