Director: Elizabeth Wood
Cast: Morgan Saylor, Brian Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, Adrian Martinez, India Menuez, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Ralph Rodriguez, Anthony Ramos
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 9/2/16 (limited); 9/30/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 29, 2016
There's a very brief mention of a secondary meaning to the title White Girl. A trio of drug dealers refers to their product by that name. It's cocaine. They never use the stuff (although they smoke weed every day), because, well, it causes a lot of problems, to say the least. The protagonist of the movie exists to prove the nickname correct.
At its core, White Girl is a clever twist on the idea of the Idiot Plot—a fairly simple plot that only operates because no one in the story is smart enough to resolve it in the five minutes it would take for anyone who isn't an idiot to settle. The plot here, though, isn't so simple. It involves an arrest and a trial for drug possession, and the protagonist really doesn't have any control over those things.
What she does have is a bag of considerable size filled with cocaine. That can get her money. The money can get a good attorney for the guy heading to trial. The attorney can figure out how to get around the possibility that this will be the third felony strike on the guy's record.
There's the little problem of the man who supplied the cocaine in the first place, but Leah (Morgan Saylor), the other and more literal "white girl" of the title (complete with bleach-blonde hair), is one of those types who will cross that bridge whenever she gets to it. She's also one of those types who is regularly in a state in which she might have a hard time realizing that she's at a bridge in the first place, let alone knowing what to do about that situation now that she's in it.
It's not that Leah is an idiot in terms of her mental faculties. She knows the score when it comes to Blue (Brian Marc), the drug dealer with whom she has a brief but passionate affair before the cops nab him in an undercover bust (The presence of the Spanish word for "Death" on the undercover cop's hat should be a hint, but Leah, who's the only character to see the hat, is hung-over from the night before when she does see it).
She knows Blue is in big trouble. She knows he needs a good lawyer. She's willing to do whatever it takes to give Blue the best chance he possibly could have. She thinks she can control this situation.
Leah is a master manipulator, too. She knows how and when to cry to make people for bad for her. Her parents give her money without question (Leah lies about needing supplies for a college class to get a couple hundred bucks). She freely uses her body if a guy gives her or could give her what she wants.
Leah, though, is an addict. Upon Blue's arrest, her first response is to open that bag and do a line of the white powder within it. There comes a point during her plan to sell the cocaine to pay for Blue's legal defense that we start to wonder how much of the white stuff goes up Leah's nostrils.
That's partly where the stupidity that moves the plot forward comes into play, but it's mostly in how limited Leah's view of what's important is. She has a one-track mind, and her immediate desires often get in the way of her ultimate goal. The cocaine is a big one, but there's also the way that sex figures into this. Her boss Kelly (Justin Bartha), who oversees her internship at a graphic design company, pressures Leah into an impromptu sexual rendezvous in his office. Later, after visiting Blue in prison and telling him she wishes she could have sex with him, Leah goes to Kelly. It's an open question if her later request for money to her boss is her primary goal of the encounter or just a matter of convenience—since she's already there for sex.
There are two, very broad ways of looking at this story. The first is to take Leah at face value—as a spoiled, privileged college student who gets in over her head because she doesn't understand how the world works. The second is to see the character as representative of a broader cultural concept—the same specific characteristics but viewed through the lens of her entitlement based on her race and economic status. In the latter regard, the point is not only what she does but also that she is able to get away with it, compared to Blue, a young man of Hispanic ethnicity whose financial and legal struggles have put him in a completely different situation.
Writer/director Elizabeth Wood doesn't fully embrace the second, more intriguing way of looking at the character, because the narrative's perspective is exclusively kept to Leah (Blue is essentially a stereotype with pleasant personality). What comes through in White Girl is a generic cautionary tale about the dangers of the character's behavior, albeit with a character whose attitude and simplistic way of looking at the world are also the target of Wood's scorn. These contradictory ideas simply don't gel.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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