Writer/director David Riker isn't new to making films about the subject of immigration. While his most recent picture The Girl remains on the topic, he explores a few different trends. This feature carries strong messages about the importance of family, morality, and compassion. if you have seen a decent number of dramas in your time, then you're guaranteed to guess every step that this movie takes. Each plot point and characterization is more predictable than the last, which aids in making this unstable journey a lot less emotional than it could have been. This is one of those rare pictures that has individual elements stronger than the overall movie itself.
Ashley (Abbie Cornish) is a young Texas mother who has been struggling to keep her head above water. She lost her only child, Georgie (Austin West), to foster care. She's working a dead-end job and isn't making enough to have the life she wants to live. Ashley is fighting to make a change, as she continues to fight for the custody of her child. Her father, Tommy (Will Patton), convinces her to take a quick vacation with him to Mexico, but for unknown reasons. Ashley soon discovers that her dad is smuggling Mexicans across the U.S. border, and is making a lot of money doing it. Ashley is willing to do anything to get her child back, so she decides to get into the business. However, the operation goes horribly wrong, leaving her with a young Mexican girl, Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez). The two return to Mexico in order to search for Rosa's mother, but neither of them realize the life-altering events that are soon to come.
The Girl begins with setting the frame with Ashley's unfortunate situation. Riker draws a great deal of sympathy for our lead character, which we're constantly reminded of through the remainder of the running time. The film quickly changes gears once her father comes along, as he invites her to come with him to Mexico for a short amount of time. She accepts the road trip, as she could use some time away from her stressful situation of fighting for the custody of her son, Georgie. She's surprised when she discovers that her father is smuggling Mexicans across the border, but soon discovers how easy it was and how much money he made from the job. Since Ashley is fluent in the Spanish language, she asks around the streets if anybody wants to cross the border for $500 a person. However, the operation was much more difficult when she executed it. Numerous people went missing after the border patrol found them crossing the river, with only a few individuals making it across. Despite her bad decision-making, David Riker keeps the audience from disliking Ashley. We continue to root for her, which extends to a much younger character as the film continues. The plot doesn't truly put itself into high gear until the following day. Ashley finds herself alone with a little girl, named Rose. The two characters have numerous conflicts, as they search for her mother. Despite the plot's predictability, that doesn't affect our feelings towards the characters.
We may become invested in these roles, but writer/director David Riker draws the "sympathy card" too often throughout the movie. As we continue to learn more about Ashley's past, viewers are led into a small portion of the flick that attempts to make us even more sympathetic for Ashley. At times, it comes across as being slightly over-the-top. The majority of The Girl is spent with the two main characters driving from location to location, as they look for Rosa's mother. Ashley constantly questions her own actions, as she struggles with whether or not she should just ditch Rosa. While some moments begin to feel stale, the picture's strongest scenes come from the discussions these characters share. Despite their constant arguing, they share a connection that comes out through the dialogue. These discussions are one of the saving graces, which keeps us interested in the emotional journey that they share.
Once the movie begins to tackle the third act, we expect the filmmaker to take a stance on the controversial topic of immigration. However, David Riker never explicitly chooses either side, but primarily utilizes it to bounce these characters off of. The relationship between Ashley and Rosa has flourished, but we're left with a slightly ambiguous ending. While the characters have developed, the film closes without answering all of the questions it created. The Girl has numerous points that have been left open for interpretation. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't leave us on a particularly satisfying note, as it feels like more than a few pages are missing. This drama could have pushed the envelope further, especially since these are characters that we genuinely care about. The characterizations feel real, which is never entirely taken advantage of. The plot isn't able to keep up with them, as the points are incredibly conventional and lead down a lonely and disappointing path.
The strongest aspect of The Girl would have to be Abbie Cornish's contributions in the role of Ashley. While her Texas accent is flawed, she appears to be much more comfortable speaking in Spanish. Regardless, she turns in an excellent performance and makes this character even more likable. Martiza Santiago Hernandez delivers a convincing representation of Rosa. While we learn a lot about this character, Hernandez brings depth that wouldn't be there otherwise. When Cornish and Hernandez share dialogue on screen, it draws the audience in. Both of these actors deliver a large amount of charm, which is difficult to resist.
Despite its shortcomings, The Girl manages to make us care, which is more than a lot of dramas can say. The plot is undeniably predictable and there's a lot of standing around, but the characters and the actors who play them make a connection with the viewers. The emotional journey Ashley and Rosa take is relevant, but David Riker constantly pulls the "sympathy card," which ultimately feels far too melodramatic. Abbie Cornish and Martiza Santiago Hernandez are wonderful, but the script isn't able to keep up. The Girl would make a solid rental.