Director: David Riker
What kind of film is The Girl? Well, bad; that much is evident. And while I’m not here to make a long story short, herein we have a film that doesn’t exactly slow down when it comes to setting an impression. I mean, a cold open immediately followed by a fade-in title? Now, look, just as I’m not here to make a long story short – and, despite the fact that I thought “here we go” right off the bat – I wouldn’t be making some kind of big judgement this early on.
So we get to the second scene (full first one, but who’s counting), which almost plays out like the emotional climax of a film we haven’t even seen. (One that might revolve around the search for custody of your own child, familial strife, what have you.) Abbie Cornish is putting on this strained Texan accent, we’ve got non-reactive reaction shots of a kid, it’s all in service of a confrontation twixt two characters who aren’t established. The scene’s not particularly inspired on a formal level, it’s just rough. The Girl is, to answer my own question, rough.
If your interest hasn’t been all but erased, I suppose you’d like to know what the film’s about. Ashley (Abbie Cornish) is a young, financially struggling Texas woman attempting to retain custody of her young son, Georgie. That doesn’t exactly pan out, and a trip with her slightly estranged, trucker father (Will Patton) opens her up to the world of human trafficking – the kind that he insists only has greater human interests at heart. And, being a naive, hopeless young woman who uses the little scraps of that promise to her own (slightly selfish) advantage, she tries to stage her own little human export. A lot of people get caught, some people die and she becomes obligated to look after a young girl, Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez).
Issues are legion in The Girl, but I think the underlying one here has to be clarity. Ashley’s decision to smuggle people across the border isn’t even close to cogent; director David Riker merely relies on POV shots of indigent Mexican workers to communicate this moment.. Truly personal, deep-seated reasons behind such a huge decision? Sorry.
It doesn’t help that Cornish’s performance is practically a wisp. The only thing I can truly recall, to be honest, is her aforementioned Texas accent – No Country for Community Theater, if you will – since the rest of the film merely requires her to stand around and display various levels of concern. To be honest, that’s really kind of it. I’d like to say this is just a fault in Riker’s script, but that shouldn’t exempt a relatively unimpressive performance from criticism.
The Mexico-set portions end up being oddly extraneous, too; almost as if Riker had to get these moments in to move the plot along. We don’t know who these people are, nor the source of their plight, because they only act as visuals to situate us with the environment. The titular girl is barely “there” for God’s sake, only acting as a source of guilt and eventual redemption for Ashley.
The rest – music, cinematography, relative emotional beats – follow suit and pass by without any kind of lasting impression. Yet it’s this lack of impact, this general indifference, that only leaves myself more and more negative about The Girl as time goes by. It’s a movie that tries to tackle important, relevant political and social issues by simply bumping into them and thinking that, therefore, something profound is being stated. Frustrating. And nigh insulting, to boot.
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