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Southern Belles
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by Scott Weinberg

"The Good Girl meets Romy & Michele at a screening of Gone with the Wind"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: There's just something about a light, pleasant, and colorful comedy that makes itself overwhelmingly welcome during a film festival. Prior to sitting down for the goofy cool breeze that is "Southern Belles," I'd taken in a sobering kidnapping drama from the Philippines and a few rather downbeat documentaries about teenage prostitutes in India and young mothers in prison. Fine films all, but "Southern Belles" proved to be just what the doctor ordered: light, amiable and more than a little hilarious, this was one of the unexpected highlights of this year's SXSW movie parade.

Take the goofy tone and affection for the characters of Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and plant it right down in the trailer park soil of Southern Georgia, populate the thing with adorably colorful kooks (as played by a roster of gifted performers,) and make sure you don't dumb the thing down or pander to the lowest common denominator - and you might just end up with a movie like Southern Belles. It might have cost 1/10th of what Meet the Fockers did (and it might end up grossing 1/50th of that wretched flick's haul) but Southern Belles is an exceedingly well-crafted, warmhearted and winning little farce.

Belle (Anna Faris) & Bell (Laura Breckenridge) are a pair of sweet-natured and naive Georgia peaches. One's fighting a dead-end job within the seventh circle of retail hell; the other's battling the advances of a dead-end hayseed boyfriend. But if you think this is a movie that stands on a pedestal while mercilessly mocking the trailer park folks, think again. Southern Belles resides within that surreal comedy world where nobody's ever really nasty - and almost everyone is good for a few big laughs.

More than a little weary of life in their dead-end backwater burg, Belle & Bell hatch a simple enough plan: the gals want to save up enough cash to move to Atlanta, which (in their eyes) is kind of like New York, Oz, and Heaven all rolled into one. The point is that these girls want to break out of the trailer trash routine; they're sweet, decent, and actually quite ambitious...only they're also quite clueless about how to improve their station in life.

Belle's ready to hit the road right now, but there's that sticky issue of money (or lack thereof), so she hatches a variety of get-rich-quick schemes - none of which exactly set the financial world on fire. Bell works as a bartender and starts saving her pennies, but she's got her own ties to sever - namely a blithering bumpkin boyfriend who, frankly, doesn't know how to treat a lady. A new romance pops up to make things even more complicated, and the Belles find their trip delayed numerous times due to a variety of unexpected obstacles.

Beneath the surface Southern Belles celebrates the desire of "little folks" who dream for bigger and better things, but this is a broad and consistently silly little flick, so don't expect too much in the Subtext & Symbolism department. Belles does have more to it than just broad yuks and southern-friend silliness, but the focus of directors Paul Myers & Brennan Shroff is mainly within the laughs department.

Anna Faris delivers a great performance as she creates a character that's wide-eyed and naive - but never dizzy or outright dumb. After her work in May, Lost in Translation, and the Scary Movie series, Ms. Faris has long since proven that she's one of Hollywood's funniest young females, and she adds another great turn in Southern Belles. Her partner in crime is a lovely young newcomer named Laura Breckenridge, a classically trained stage veteran who's making her leading lady debut here. It only takes about 45 seconds of screen time before one falls in love with L.B., which gives you the next 90-some minutes to enjoy her pitch-perfect performance. On their own, Faris & Breckenridge deliver a lot of great moments; when they're onscreen together, the sweetie-pie chemistry is almost too adorable to bear.

(I've been saying this since the Southern Belles screening ended, but let's get it on the record right now: Laura Breckenridge is going to be a huge star - and soon. The luminous young lass contains a screen presence on par with your Portmans and your Knightleys, and she's obviously a damn fine actor. When Breckenridge gets her big break and gets vaulted into the stratosphere, feel free to drop me an email telling me what a brilliant judge of talent I can be when I'm not drunk.)

The Belles are supported by a rock-solid supporting ensemble: the drop-dead hilarious Fred Weller is doled out in small doses, which makes his scene-stealing performance all the more delicious. (Picture Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused mixed with Brad Pitt in True Romance.) Judah Friedlander gets some great moments as a mouth-breathing retail moron, Justin Chambers plays a local cop who's both dashing and a little dizzy, and crazy kid Zac Gardner brings the house down whenever the Belles are on babysitting duty.

One of the movie's best assets is that these gals are never once painted as stupid or slutty; just about any Hollywood comedy would have these gals falling into mud puddles and whacking each other with purses while wearing skin-tight clothes and pining over lost boyfriends. We've seen that particular movie a hundred times before. Clearly the Belle filmmakers have some actual affection for these characters, and that's a pretty refreshing approach. Sure, these ladies are exceedingly easy on the eyes, but you'll also fall in love with both of these southern sweeties as their adventures wear on. And it's tough to fall in love with a pair of moron-girls, which explains why the Simple Life ladies turn my stomach so consistently.

Basically, it's more than OK that Southern Belles is not about "plot" - because it's packed to the gills with characters you'll grow to love pretty darn quickly. The deep South is poked and probed, yet never savaged or humiliated. Indeed, Southern Belles seems to exist in sort of a trailer park fantasy world, one in which nothing truly unpleasant ever happens and all of the citizens have unexpected pools of wit and wisdom hiding just beneath the surface.

"Southern Belles" is funnier than just about 75% of the really expensive Hollywood yukfests, plus it's clearly conceived with just as much heart as goofball irreverence. The flick might not ever open on 2,000 screens, and that's kind of a shame. On the other hand, unwatchable garbage like "The Pacifier" DOES open on 2,000 screens, because it's broad and generic and created for the stupidest person in any given room. A low-budget winner like "Southern Belles" will have to survive on strong word-of-mouth created by those movie-watchers who, frankly, probably weren't expecting all that much from the flick in the first place. Speaking as someone who wandered into the screening as an afterthought, I'd like to be the first to share the news: "Southern Belles" is a great little comedy, and it's absolutely one of the buried treasures of this year's SXSW movie fest.

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originally posted: 03/19/05 04:06:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/24/06 I was an extra during the filming in Wilmington, NC. 4 stars
8/08/06 JEFF FROM SEATTLE Wonderful, sweet movie! A total charmer! 4 stars
8/06/06 William Goss Somewhat slight, yet genuinely genial Southern charmer. 4 stars
4/25/06 rick redmon Based on your review, we checked out this movie and agree with you 100%. 5 stars
6/01/05 Susan McNamara Great movie .. funny, cute, lighthearted comedy! 5 stars
3/23/05 Tama Keller Delightful, funny & fun. I throughly enjoyed this movie 4 stars
3/23/05 Kate McNamara Awesome, Go Crew 5 stars
3/22/05 Sara Blake An absolutely fabulous movie! Looking forward to seeing again! 5 stars
3/19/05 Rachel Katz This is a really funny, quality comedy. Heather Goldenhersh is a scene stealer. 5 stars
3/19/05 Maureen Barrett The best comedy I have seen in a long time! Thanks. 5 stars
3/19/05 Bansi Shroff Excellent Comedy, keeps you laughing 5 stars
3/19/05 John Smith Hilarious, totally unexpected. 5 stars
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