June 10, 2023 at 3:48 am

All The Real Girls (2003)

All The Real Girls (2003)
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: David Gordon Green
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson


Not until girls became real persons could a movie like All the Real Girls be made. Now, even young men are noticing. Girls and women are not figments of the male imagination but real, live, hot-blooded human beings with needs, desires and ideas of their own. Conceptualized, written and directed by two men, “All the Real Girls” captures that heightened poetic moment when Mars falls in love with Venus. But because Venus is a real girl, not a dreamgirl, she holds her own orbit just long enough to send life-changing tremors through Mars while she makes a few of her own.

In this way, an old story gets a fresh twist. Paul (Paul Schneider), a bored small town stud with too much time on his hands, is captivated by Noel (Zooey Deschanel), his best friend’s younger sister returning home after graduation from a girl’s boarding school. Theoretically, Noel should be just another conquest but instead she arouses feelings in him that confuse Paul, making him shy away from his usual modis operandi of fast kisses, quick sex and cool exits. But Noel, a virgin on the verge, launches her own agenda. She flirts with Paul hoping her big brother’s friend will provide an answer to her budding sexual desires.

All the Real Girls opens with Paul and Noel talking in the shadows of an alley, stopped on a walk around town by obvious tones of mutual attraction. Noel’s forthrightness contrasts with Paul’s hesitation. Noel asks Paul, “Why haven’t you kissed me?” He answers that he doesn’t want to kiss her like he’s kissed other girls. She suggests he kiss her hand, seducing him easily from her hand to her mouth. She’s ready. He’s not. When Noel leads Paul into a passionate first kiss, an equality of spirit is established.

This may be a girl who can be swept off her feet but she is far from passive. Virginity may be an alluring sign of purity to a man but, for a young woman, it marks a burgeoning potential. Noel is on the brink of discovery, breaking through to a time of empowerment where sex and feelings converge into self-knowledge. It’s not about Noel yielding to the flattery of Paul’s discovery that she’s ‘the one’. All the Real Girls explores rather than trivializes the rich emotional territory of a young woman’s arousal of sexual desire. Noel wants to know how she feels about Paul. And she wants Paul to want to know what she can only know after she knows herself as a sexual woman, not settling for less. It’s not all about Paul. When Noel tells him, “You have my heart”, she speaks a truth she can stand behind. Thus, sexual desire takes a turn into emotional awareness, revealing a truth so obvious that it’s invisible. Love between a man and a woman is an intersection of feeling, a profound transition beyond expectation or design.

Once Paul meets Noel, he can’t seem to help himself from talking in poetic phrases. Even though he’s a small town hick who has slept with every girl in town, a natural elevation of aesthetic expression takes place when he’s in her presence. He picks up her trombone and plays – badly but with soul. Delightfully symbolic, Paul dances behind Noel’s back in the lanes of a bowling alley. And he says he could do it forever. On a more serious note, he stops cracking jokes about girl’s bodies. But his determination to realize his fantasy puts Noel on a timeworn pedestal; one from which she can only fall. He won’t kiss her like he’s kissed every other girl nor will he sleep with her like he’s slept with every other girl. He’s reaching for something special – and he gets it. Paul gets carried into a river of change; he goes from a boy realizing his dreamgirl fantasy to a young man facing the fact that he’s not the only one who matters in the matters of love. And it’s not just about romance. ‘Real Girls’ puts intense loving back into friendship as well as family.

When Paul finds out that Noel finds out that she loves him by having sex with another man, a stranger, his fantasy gets struck to the ground but his relationships with his mother and his best friend deepen. No way Paul could have ever anticipated that Noel would have sex with another man while they were in his fantasy. It opens his eyes to the sheer existence of other people as people in their own right. He begins to see his mother, Elvira (Patricia Clarkson) as a real person, making the best of her life as a single woman. Elvira is a truthful woman, a little bit wacky but strong enough to convince her son to don a clown suit, brightening a day for children at a local hospital. She doesn’t back down from confrontations with him about his puerile attitudes and, on one occasion, hits him for his stupidity. To his credit, he doesn’t run away. Paul also goes from bad boy posturing with his best friend to some soulful hugging as they both knuckle under to emotional needs they would rather not have. These two young men turn from friends who conquer fear with bravado to ones who battle demons of loss, shame and limitation together. To deal with the women in their lives, they develop an honesty of feeling they’d rather not have.

Noel’s turnabout on Paul wakes him up to the depth of despair that comes with disillusionment, creating empathy for the young women that he’s betrayed. But, as the wind blows and time passes, it’s not simply the error of his ways that impresses itself upon Paul. His imperfections take on greater meaning. Life and love are beyond control of the human ego. Children die. Noel’s younger brother has Downs Syndrome. Paul’s aging uncle has a young daughter (pointedly called Feng Shui) left in his care after his wife, her much younger mother died unexpectedly. His womanizing best friend decides to marry a girl he’s gotten pregnant so he won’t be alone. His mother clowns to cover up pain that won’t go away.

Decisions come not from the head but from accidents of nature, strange bedfellows of fate and the hearts of star-crossed lovers with different agendas. Choice goes back to the only place it can, where it belongs – in the hands of a man or a woman who knows little more about what they’re getting into than that they will get wet.

But, if no leap into the unknown realm of feeling is made, one sits upon the bank of the river watching life pass by. Not even a dog would do that.

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