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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.16%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.04%
Total Crap: 6.12%

5 reviews, 19 user ratings

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All the Real Girls
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by Collin Souter

"One of the best love stories ever filmed."
5 stars

This will be hard for me to put into words, because I’m not sure I fully understand my own reaction. I came out of “All The Real Girls” feeling profoundly moved, saddened and, finally, devastated. The movie has a raw emotion about it that seems alien to most American movies about love. It also does not set itself up for happy endings, but instead the result has you weighing the pros and cons about where every character has ended up. The movie also finds poetry within the confines of its working-class setting of steel mills, forest preserves and cheap hotels. The beautiful score weaves all these elements into a movie that doesn’t abide by the usual three-act structure or easy-step screenwriting techniques to which we have become accustomed. I just don’t know how to describe the power of it.

I wanted to sit in the theater a little longer after the credits to pull myself together. I sat in the car in the parking lot hesitant to start the car and drive home. I wanted to try and figure out where I just was and what just happened. “All The Real Girls” tells the story of a “first love” of sorts, but it feels more like a meditation than a story. I have had the whole “first love” and “first heartbreak” experience, but I don’t quite remember the exact feelings they entailed. I can’t specifically recall the emotions, but I know I had them. “All The Real Girls” brought them all back to me and, even though I have a wonderful woman in my life and we just celebrated our seven-year anniversary, I felt every wave of emotion felt by the characters in the movie.

So, you can see where I might be a little confused, but so be it. “All The Real Girls” has elegance, grace and poetry to spare. Some have compared the director, David Gordon Green (who also directed a movie titled “George Washington,” which I have not seen yet, but definitely will soon) to Terrance Malick. The comparison seems inevitable. Many seemingly important scenes have a short life-span while smaller, more intimate scenes have the feeling of a short film in and of themselves. Random cuts to various forces of nature come into play along with a montage sequence that will remind some people of “Koyaanisquatsi.” I’m guessing that if Green had used voice-over, as Malick did on his three films, maybe I might have felt a slight air of pretension.

Alas, “All The Real Girls” feels most genuine. In a way, it belongs in the same category as “You Can Count On Me” and “In The Bedroom,” ego-less American movies about small towns where the audience feels as though they’re eavesdropping in on every intimate conversation. The conversations had in “All The Real Girls” neither feel nor sound ordinary. Green, who also wrote the screenplay, and his superb cast of mostly unknowns manage to make the stylized dialogue sound completely natural. Every line seems to matter, yet it never gets too full of itself.

The movie opens with a beautiful shot of the two lead characters, Paul (Paul Schneider) and Noel (Zooey Dashanel, who played the older sister in “Almost Famous”) embraced in an intimate and unusual kiss. Gradually, we find out more about these two. Paul, a guy who has been with 26 other women, none of whom ever meant anything, feels on the verge of some self-realization. He might actually be in love for the first time. Noel has never had a boyfriend and has never been intimate with anyone. Her protective older brother, Tip (Shae Wingham), is also Paul’s best friend and doesn’t trust Paul’s intentions because of his history with other women.

Normally, we would be meant to think that the fragile relationship between Paul and Noel would shatter because of something in Paul’s past catching up with him. Or maybe that Paul finds himself afraid to commit. Not so. As with any movie about “first love,” something must come along to shake it up and cause it to strain. I prefer not to give away what happens. It’s a plot point that comes out of nowhere, which will feel a little awkward and convenient for some, but when put into context, the punch-in-the-gut feeling of heartache resonates. This movie knows exactly how emotional pain should feel and one can never be fully ready for it.

“All The Real Girls” takes place in Marshall, North Carolina, a small steel mill town where the world feels small due to its tightly packed population, but at the same time the scenery looks and feels as vast, panoramic and limitless as the emotion of love itself. The supporting characters have plenty of flavor. Paul also has a friend named Bust-Ass (Danny McBride) who only knows about love on the most superficial level possible. Paul’s mother, Elvira (Patricia Clarkson) whom he lives with, works as a clown at a children’s hospital. Many more characters, young and old, drift in and out of the story, each playing a large part in the minds of the two leads.

The movie does have many moments of humor, many of which come from the characters’ unexpected idiosyncrasies. One peculiar scene has Paul and Noel in a bizarre embrace in the middle of a bowling alley. Paul then decides he wants to dance, but the end result is one of those sublimely hilarious and seemingly throwaway moments that has the viewer laughing and thinking at the same time. Why is this scene here and what does it mean? (Quite a bit, actually)

As I write this, I am currently enrolled in a Visual Analysis class where we look at two movies (“Rear Window” and “Blue Velvet”) and dissect them scene-for-scene, shot-by-shot. We go crazy with analysis, almost to the point of absurdity (but in good fun, really). Not too many movies these days would be deserving of such treatment, but I believe “All The Real Girls” would. It has scenic beauty that transcends every emotion. Green is brave for trying to tell a poetic love story in this increasingly cynical day and age and his command over the medium parallels that of P.T. Anderson and Alfonso Cuaron. And Terrance Malick.

“All The Real Girls” will likely strike a personal chord with anyone who has ever been in love for the first time, or that one special time. If you forgot what it feels like, it will remind you. If you’re still in love, it will make you thankful for what you have. If you have just gone through a painful breakup, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like to sit through this movie. It puts the complexity of these emotions and discoveries into words and images that defy description. It gives you fuel for self-reflection, sadness to last a lifetime, plenty of food for thought once the tears subside and joy in knowing that great American cinema is alive and kicking. In spite of all that, it rendered me completely, utterly speechless.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 03/02/03 17:25:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/25/18 David Sincerely I think it's the greatest film ever made 5 stars
7/20/09 Kazelxmf Hi webmaster! cnf 4 stars
2/13/06 tompkin great soundtrack album! 4 stars
1/22/06 aimless contrieved self-congratulatory, "Tully" is way better 2 stars
12/06/04 Natasha Theobald it had me for a while but lost me at some mid-point a bit 4 stars
10/05/04 idiotsdelight Incredibly banal characters and coversation - total waste of time 1 stars
5/05/04 A F Wow. One laughing my ass off, next holding back sadness. Emotionaly Exhausting 5 stars
9/26/03 Kimberly Very subtle and poignant film, while still making you laugh. Excellent and highly recommend 5 stars
9/17/03 matt simple, elegant and beautiful to both look at and think about. fantastic 5 stars
9/13/03 Sheri incredible 5 stars
8/02/03 stavroula painfully bad; trite dialogue, bad direction 1 stars
7/01/03 Derek Vincent nothing better than a sweet virgin ass, properly basted with BBQ sauce and ether 5 stars
4/09/03 David Serxner Super movie!! Lyrical 5 stars
3/28/03 Mike Seely The love child of Harmony Korine and Paul Thomas Anderson. Masterpiece. 5 stars
3/01/03 Pete best film of 2003 so far without question. haunting funny and perfect acting 5 stars
2/12/03 SG Loved it! 5 stars
2/12/03 aks treacly and disingenuous 1 stars
2/03/03 Kris Morrison Enjoyable yet realistic story of young love 4 stars
1/28/03 tony gregg I SO enjoyed this film.......the acting was right on and it left me wanting more. 5 stars
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  14-Feb-2003 (R)
  DVD: 19-Aug-2003



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