Welcome to Sundance: Very Good Girls

Of all the places to catch a screening, my favorite by far is the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Theater in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s far more relaxed than Park City, centrally located and void of pseudo-celebrities in posh designer fur boots. The atmosphere is less about being seen than seeing movies, making a trip to the theater fill normal again.

Welcome To Sundance

Written and directed by Naomi Foner, the film Very Good Girls stars Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning as Gerri and Lilly, two best friends coyly trying to lose their virginity the summer before they leave New York for college. The characters exist in that awkward stage between juvenility and adulthood, a period filled with excitement, confusion and a series of firsts.

The two girls come from completely different households. Gerri’s parents are quintessential liberal hippies, a family that would fit in perfectly in Berkeley. Her dad (Richard Dreyfus) is impossible not to like while her mother (Demi Moore) wants to call the ACLU at every chance she gets. On the other side of the fence are Lilly’s parents, two shrinks (Clark Gregg & Ellen Barkin) who both work from home. They are professionals with professional hang-ups. When Lilly walks in on her father in the arms of another woman, their house becomes frigid to the point of clinical.

Set in an upscale neighborhood in Brooklyn, the two girls end up chasing the same boy (Boyd Holbrook), a sullen photographer/street artist who works at a popsicle stand on Brighton Beach. He represents a teenage girl’s image of cool. He rides a motorcycle, is wildly unpredictable, frustratingly sullen and somehow manages to lives in an upscale photography studio in SOHO. Both girls throw themselves at him but in completely different ways, Gerri overtly and Lilly under-the-radar. When the boy goes for Lilly, the result is a battle of games—games between people versus games within the mind.

Both Olsen and Fanning have incredibly expressive eyes, giving them the ability to tell a full story without uttering a single word. The buzz in the theater afterwards focused mainly on the young girls expressions. The characters in the film seemed to only use words when perfectly necessary – save Gerri’s uncomfortable rambling of what-to-do’s about her new found crush.

Foner wrote the movie twenty years ago and originally set it in the late 60s, but when reworking the script decided it made more sense to set the film in current times. The year the film is set in is of no real consequence though, because Foner’s characters and the issues they are dealing with are timeless. It’s a story that’s written for young girls regardless of when they had to grow up, and Foner’s main goal was to make a story that girls could relate to as real.

“It’s a movie about walking out of a safe space into a much more complicated space,” Foner explains, “where everything you do has big consequences. You have to encounter what life is really all about—sex, death, love—all those things.”

Jenny Lewis debuted her first film score with Very Good Girls. Her music fit in perfectly with the cinematography, and the dark pop songs from her catalog of music provided a soundtrack to girls who had nothing more than each other and their minds.

“As much as Dakota and Lizzy are both movie stars, they thought Jenny was the movie star,” Foner went on. “She is the Joni Mitchell of now, and she was the sound that played in their heads.”

I couldn’t help but wonder how different it would be to watch the film if I was a girl. From my perspective, the film made girls seem crazy and guys look like assholes, and it was hard to say which was causing which. I guess it’s the standard chicken and the egg syndrome.

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