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With: Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Clarkson, Shea Whigham, Danny R. McBride, Maurice Compte, Heather McComb, Benjamin Mouton, John Kirkland,
Written by: David Gordon Green, Paul Schneider
Directed by: David Gordon Green
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/19/2003

All the Real Girls (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Real' World

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Along with Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher, David Gordon Green's George Washington was the most impressive directorial debut by anyone in the past several years. Shot in Cinemascope on discarded short ends, it showed a painterly view of a lazy, wasted life in America -- and the hopes that can still flourish in such a land.

Inspired mostly by filmmaker Terrence Malick, it reveled in the rhythms of everyday life: sadness, horror, love and just a little laughter.

Now Green is back with All the Real Girls, and like most sophomore efforts after such a stunning debut, it disappoints slightly. But only because it cuts back in scale and tries to tell a much smaller, much more ordinary story. And in that much, it succeeds.

Paul Schneider, who played a small part in George Washington, stars as Paul, a small town womanizer who falls in love with his best friend's sister, Noel (Zooey Deschanel). It's a little hard to buy that the sweet Paul has nailed every girl in town, but we take the movie's word for it. Though Noel's brother is jealous and worried that Paul will hurt his sister, most of the movie focuses on Paul and Noel's tender, awkward relationship.

Green, who co-wrote the story with Schneider, allows the characters to say and do whatever feels real -- or, failing that, whatever feels beautiful.

In one lovely scene, Paul and Noel stand in the center of a bowling lane, Paul clutching at Noel's waist. He suddenly gets the urge to dance, but asks her to turn around because he doesn't want her to watch. He begins a furious little shuffle and says, "I can do this for a solid hour."

These sweet scenes come with a sleepy, lyrical rhythm. They're interspersed with equally sweet little scenes of Paul with his mother (Patricia Clarkson) and Paul with Noel's smaller, mentally retarded brother. Sometimes these scenes get a little overwrought, but they're lovely little distractions.

Clarkson and Deschanel are the most experienced professionals in this cast, and they're superb, but their natural, unselfconscious readings match and mesh perfectly with the amateurs, and it would be wrong to single them out for praise.

Cinematographer Tim Orr, who photographed George Washington, does another beautiful Cinemascope job here, though, again, not quite as striking as that first job. Here he's more tuned to faces than to landscapes. The landscapes are quieter here and don't reveal as much about the people who live in them.

Unlike most movie romances, Paul and Noel eventually hit a bumpy spot and their recovery does not come easily. In fact, the movie ends ambiguously, which has to be a first for a romance. All the Real Girls asks us to get used to something we've never encountered before, and it can leave us feeling a little swindled at the end.

But the film ends gorgeously -- just as gorgeously as it begins with Paul and Noel speaking secretly and tenderly in the dark just outside someone's house. One of them is just about to go inside but the saying of goodbyes takes a little longer than planned.

And Green's whole idea is not to take us farther away from love, but to bring us closer by making it sillier and more self-conscious -- just like life.

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