I've given in to the fact that I probably won't find the time to finish up every review for the films I watched during the June 100 earlier this year. Instead I'm just going to go ahead and publish the reviews that I did finish over the next few weeks. If a film I review is from the 100, I'll put the number it placed in the title of the post. Very Good Girls was the 88th film I watched for the challenge.
Very Good Girls
Naomi Foner // 2013 // 91 mins
The directorial debut for screenwriter Naomi Foner, Very Good Girls is a story that we've all seen time and time again; a coming-of-age, lead up to college, friendship breaking love triangle tale that follows best friends Lily (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) over the course of a single summer.
While this is a story that has been told a hundred times before, Very Good Girls benefits from the presence of two accomplished young actresses occupying the lead roles and the pair do their best to inject life into Foner's disappointingly predictable screenplay. Lily is the put-upon, eldest daughter of a marriage that begins crumbling around her in the weeks leading up to her departure for college, Gerry is Lily's bohemian, song-writing best friend who talks frankly and calls her parents by their first names. When the two girls meet the tall, blonde and broody, aspiring photographer David Avery (Boyd Holbrook) a love triangle is triggered as Gerry begins pursuing David, who in turn proceeds to pursue Lily. This probably all sounds very familiar and, just as in the countless other films that have told this story, much, if not all, of the drama and conflict that ensues could easily have been prevented if Lily had simply been open and told her friend that she and David were becoming an item. Instead Lily decides, for no other reason than to spare Gerry's feelings, keeps silent about ever having seen David beyond their initial encounter and so a frustrating, secret romance is born, one that threatens to ruin Lily and Gerry's strong friendship.
Fanning and Olsen do deliver, the two actresses are equally charming and enjoyable in their roles and succeed in making us care about two very unoriginal characters. The supporting cast are all fine, as should be expected with the talent involved, but nothing much is ever really asked of them. Demi Moore, Ellen Barkin, Clark Gregg and Richard Dreyfuss orbit the narrative as the girls' parents, occasionally dropping in for a sentimental scene or to stir up the drama, while Peter Sarsgaard is also present as Lily's creepy boss in a plot-line that really doesn't serve much purpose. Despite primarily being a screenwriter, Foner's first script in seven years fails to inspire, while her first time efforts as a director show a much strong potential. The film is particularly well paced, coming in at a swift 91 minutes, and with nearly every one of the multiple narrative strands being given adequate attention and resolution. At times this is a very beautiful film and features some stunning cinematography, creating beautiful, memorable images without ever trying to hard to do so. It is a shame that Foner didn't work harder to make her story feel less regurgitative, as a stronger narrative combined with her able direction and talented actors would have made this quite the standout debut.
The success of the film begins and ends, though, with the two central performances and Fanning and Olsen are a pleasure to watch. Any amount of time spent with them could not be considered wasted, it's just unfortunate that their director was unable to provide a screenplay that could really flex the pairs combined acting talents. As it stands, Foner's debut amounts to little more than two very good girls doing their best to elevate what is a very mediocre film.