all the real girls

I saw All the Real Girls the weekend before last. I enjoyed it a great deal, and it’s stuck in my head for a while now. Chuck provides a thoughtful entry (as usual) on this film and finds in it a “nostalgia for a lost past that threatens to disappear irretrievably.” [Blogspot’s permanent links to individual entries seem to work only irregularly, so check out Chuck’s main page if the above link doesn’t work.]

Abandoned buildings, broken down cars, busted pianos — images of materials that have outlived their usefulness seem to permeate this movie. The dreamlike music of artists like Will Oldham and Sparklehorse parallel the seemingly slow lives lived by the characters, who aren’t ambitionless (or bored) so much as thoughtful and unhurried, if vaguely dissatisfied. Chuck writes

[J]obs have either dried up or the town’s residents are forced to take work that dehumanizes them (Paul’s mother for example works as a clown, and Noel works in a textile plant).

However, I’d like to argue against a negative reading of the advanced entropy evident in the town’s surroundings, and the seemingly dead-end work that occupies the residents. The film seems to aestheticize the worn-out objects that we see rather than portray them as ugly or useless. And the characters seem to enjoy the time they spend — somewhat aimlessly, perhaps — trying to repair the old pianos, in the case of Paul’s mother, or the cars, in the case of Paul and his friends. Granted, no one ever seems to actually get things back in working order, and their competence is called into question by the fact that Paul and his friends think putting moth balls in the gas tank is a sure way to rev up a car’s performance.

But this doesn’t seem to be the point. Like Paul driving the beat-up old station wagon slowly around the dirt race track while the hotrods race by him, no one is in a hurry, and the goal is not to be the first one over the finish line.

It’s true that Paul’s mother, who dresses up like a clown for children at the hospital, does not seem thrilled with her job. But the scene where she and a reluctantly clowned-up Paul dance for the children and get them to laugh and dance along with them is hypnotically compelling, with no soundtrack except for the quirky-sounding instrumental music playing. She may be a clown, but in this scene at least there is clearly meaningful work being done.

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3 thoughts on “all the real girls

  1. Wow–I like this reading of the film, especially the way you read the Will Oldham and Sparklehorse songs. I want to try and work through some other ideas about the film, so bear with me. Maybe the nostalgia I’m trying to describe is slightly different than my original entry on the film suggests. In a sense, the “aimlessness” is what I admire most about the film–it’s what reminds me of the best Italian neo-realism (Antonioni’s L’Avventura, for example), hence my neologism, “red clay realism.”
    I think the “slower” life that we see in this film–beatifully represented in the race track scene–may be part of the nostalgia that I’m trying to capture. You’re absolutely right that they don’t want to leave their small town, and maybe what I was trying to suggest is that this small town (and the life it represents) may be what is in danger of disappearing in the face of a “globalism” that I mapped against the particularity of the film. That mapping now seems a little heavy-handed (too much Jameson, too many Greimasian squares). Your discussion of Girls has made me want to see it again.

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