Directed by: Elizabeth Wood.
Written by: Elizabeth Wood.
Starring: Morgan Saylor (Leah), Brian 'Sene' Marc (Blue), Justin Bartha (Kelly), Chris Noth (George Fratelli), Adrian Martinez (Lloyd), India Menuez (Katie), Annabelle Dexter-Jones (Alexa), Ralph Rodriguez (Nene), Anthony Ramos (Kilo).
There is nothing subtle about White Girl – Elizabeth Wood’s debut feature, least of all its title. You could rename the film White Privilege or White Guilt, and it would be just as accurate, but White Girl tells you pretty much the movie you are going to be seeing. Wood is out to shock her audience with her frank depictions of sex, rape, drug abuse, violence – and how the lead character, a pretty, young blonde woman gets to skate away from it all, while others do not have the same option. It is a film that is unflinching, harrowing, depressing and un-compromising – you will grow to hate the main character and not in an enjoyable way. It’s also, it must be said, more than a little obvious and repetitive – so that even at only 88 minutes, the film drags a little. It is made worthwhile by some very good performances – and a killer final shot.
The movie centers on Leah (Morgan Saylor) – who moves to a poor area of Brooklyn in the summer between University years. She is an unpaid intern at a magazine – and not a glamorous magazine that anyone would have heard of, but one of those sleazy magazines that hipsters think are great, and no one else has ever heard of. Her boss there, Kelly (Justin Bartha) is sleazy – all but forcing himself on Leah, although that doesn’t stop her from coming around whenever she wants money or drugs from him. On the street outside her new apartment, she meets a gang of low level drug dealers – including Blue (Brian “Sene” Marc), a good looking Puerto Rican guy she is immediately attracted. They hang out once – and when he makes move, she says “What kind of girl do you think I am” – and then the film smash cuts to the pair fucking against the wall of an alley, letting you know precisely the answer to that question.
You cannot really call what follows as a descent in sex and drug use for Leah – she’s done that long before the movie ever began, although it clearly gets a lot worse in the film. It seems like it’s all going to be one big party until Blue is arrested – and is looking at his third strike if he gets convicted. Leah happens to have the 10 oz of coke Blue just bought on credit – and decides to sell it all to get Blue a good lawyer – George Fratelli (Chris Noth). But she keeps partying, keeping doing drugs, keeps fucking – and even when she gets some money, she loses it. All the guys in the movie – Blue aside – are basically the same as they use Leah for what they want, and discard her. Yet it’s hard to see her as too much of a victim (except for one scene that is undeniably rape). She makes mistake after mistake, and basically brings everything down on herself.
Blue is painted in a more sympathetic light than Leah is – and I have mixed feelings on that. He is a drug dealer after all – and the film never really gives us his backstory as to how he ended up where he does when we meet him. The film does make clear that Leah has, at the very least, a supportive family – and a future ahead of her, if she sticks with college – options that Blue doesn’t have.
The film wants to be a new version of Kids (1995) – although one more concentrated on one character, and more conscience of race (Kids doesn’t really address that, despite have a diverse cast). The problem is that the film plots repeats itself far too often. The film is essentially one party scene after another – with Leah getting drunk, getting stoned, getting naked and then stumbling around in a stupor the next day. The consequences get more severe as the film progresses, and perhaps the goal is to make a film where everything blurs together. The film does make up for some of this with a killer final image though – after a violent climax that is both inevitable and unexpected, the camera gives us just one image to sit with us, and it will. The meaning of the movie is encapsulated in that one image – and it’s a killer.