Mark Reviews Movies

Very Good Girls


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Naomi Foner

Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Ellen Barkin, Clark Gregg, Peter Sarsgaard, Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss

MPAA Rating: R (for language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 7/25/14 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 24, 2014

In its first scene, Very Good Girls shows that it is not dealing with the most intelligent of people. In that scene, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) decide to have an adventure at the beach. They will strip naked, run across the sand in front of everyone enjoying a day out, and go skinny dipping in the ocean. It all goes according to plan until they reach the water, at which point Gerry has the sudden realization that she does not like to swim. She sits, curled up and covering herself (Everyone has seen everything already), and a group of guys come up to the girls to start flirting with them. Gerry is mortified. We want to ask her: "How did you think this little stunt would go?"

Lilly saves the day by putting on a fake accent and pretending that they don't speak English. Imagine all the embarrassment they could have saved themselves if only—at any point in the planning phase—Gerry had remembered that she doesn't like to swim.

Writer/director Naomi Foner clearly wants this scene to be an innocent display youthful liberation. It would be much easier to accept it as such, if not for the fact that almost every decision these characters make throughout the rest of the movie mirrors the ignorance of this first one. Yes, they're supposed to be learning Important Life Lessons as they make naïve mistake after potentially wounding mistake, but there comes a point when we realize that these girls make a lot of easily avoidable mistakes.

Soon after Lilly and Gerry have their exposing escapade on the beach, they decide that each should probably lose her virginity before heading off to college. Luckily (That's arguable), they meet David (Boyd Holbrook), a graffiti artist/photographer/waiter/boardwalk ice cream vendor who pretends he's not interested in either of them but takes their picture as they walk away from him. He's supposed to be charming and endearing (Again, that's arguable), but then he posts Lilly's photo around New York City. To top it off, the photo contains a creepily cryptic caption: "Where do you live?" Only in the movies does such behavior not result in a restraining order.

Gerry is taken by this older guy, who—as a bonus—turns out to be technically homeless. She tells Lilly how she asked her parents (Demi Moore and Richard Dreyfuss) to take her to the restaurant where he works as an excuse to talk to him. Meanwhile, Lilly has already started semi-dating David after returning to the beach as an excuse to talk to him. Lilly doesn't tell her best friend about it, even as he seems to be courting both girls at the same time. She doesn't drop him like the dead weight that he is, either. Their romance develops in long gazes and awkward invasions of privacy.

Lilly is the unfortunate center of the movie. She's not a talker, which just makes her inconsistent decision-making all the more frustrating. Her parents are going through a bitter separation after her mother (Ellen Barkin) learns that Lilly's father (Clark Gregg) has been unfaithful. One moment, Lilly wants her father back at home and for her mother to forgive him, and the next, she's scolding dad for trying to return.

Her quiet nature is either the annoying tendency of a confused character or a symptom of lazy writing. It leans toward the latter, given that every conflict here arises from situations that could be easily resolved if the characters sat down to talk for a few minutes (The ending proves it). She won't tell Gerry about her own relationship with David. In fact, she goes on to tell the guy to go to Gerry after a family tragedy. It's a cruel test of his devotion to her, of course, and the results should be predictable to anyone with common sense. She tries to seek revenge for something that she isn't certain happened, although Foner isn't above cheating with perspective to tease us with the possibility. The aid comes her even older and creepier, far-too-eager boss (Peter Sarsgaard), but by this point, we've grown accustomed to and very tired of this string of destructive behavior.

It's clear that Lilly is immature, and again, we know how people learn Important Life Lessons. It cannot be too much to ask, though, that even immature characters have some kind of consistency or, failing that, are not so self-involved that we feel we're wasting our time with them. Very Good Girls has plenty of emotionally immature or stunted characters, and if there's one lesson to take from the movie, it's that they deserve each other.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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