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.