Dirty Girl isn’t. Sorry, but it’s just faux grime, a thin layer of bad behaviour that wipes clean with a two-ply tissue to reveal the real movie beneath – all shiny sentimentality. The eighties provide the setting, along with the abundant soundtrack, but really this is a flick that owes more to the present than the past, and more to the small screen than the large. It’s Glee with a potty mouth.
The mouth belongs to Danielle, the title girl (Juno Temple – such a classic name), a high-schooler with a slutty rep that’s not only well earned but a source of up-yours pride. “If it’s a man’s world, God wouldn’t have made me,” she boasts, and then takes pains to prove it – intimidating the jocks, berating the principal, striking fear into the God-fearing, brazenly role-reversing with Sue-Ann, her hopelessly young and single mom (Milla Jovovich). In the Oklahoma of 1987, Danielle is a crude force of nature, and, early on, it’s fun to watch Temple blow around in this gale-force role.
But the fun stops about when the plot begins. Busted down to join the other misfits in a “special ed” class, our whirlwind meets the love that, in these parts at that time, still dare not speak its name. Yep, Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) is gay. He’s also pudgy and a bit pathetic, much loved by his meek mother but routinely berated by his homophobic dad (Dwight Yoakam). Inevitably, after relieving herself of a few choice slurs, the not-so dirty girl bonds with the very gay guy to quickly cement their BFF status.
Already watery, the plot thins further when she decides to track down her never-seen father, somewhere off in California, and Clarke provides the family Caddy for transport. Off they ride into a road movie, the start-and-stop kind where the picture pauses for a production number whenever one of those eighties standards breaks out on the soundtrack. Like when the pair find themselves lip-synching and finger-jiving on the front seat while the radio blasts Lovergirl. Or when they pick up a male hitchhiker who, as good luck would have it, is an “erotic dancer” keen to strut his stuff in a field at night with the high-beams for a spotlight. Shift to the back seat and guess who loses his virginity.
Oh, they go on and so does the tuneful schmaltz. How about that strip contest at the honky-tonk saloon, where Danielle eagerly takes the stage only to relinquish it to Clarke – oops, it’s a gay bar and don’t the patrons adore his pudgy shimmying. From there, a few complications ensue, although writer-director Abe Sylvia’s choice of palette – bright Technicolor with a fuzzy wash – is a broad hint that happy trails are just around the corner.
Before we get there, of course, Danielle must have her confrontation with long-lost Daddy, whereupon the music stops just long enough for an injection of poignancy. The remarkable thing is that Temple almost brings it off – her performance, and Dozier’s too, are strong enough that they beg for better material. But Sylvia has paved the road with gooey sentiment, and he ain’t about to change, not even when the highway winds back home again.
Then, damned if it isn’t time for the high-school talent show. By now, the mouth is potty-trained and there’s not a speck of dirt to be seen on the girl – golly gee, all that’s left is Glee.
- Directed and written by Abe Sylvia
- Starring Juno Temple and Jeremy Dozier
- Classification: 14A
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