“I like hanging out with you ‘cause you look around and listen.”
He’s Paul (Paul Schneider), 22, living in smalltown North Carolina with his mom (Patricia Clarkson), working for his uncle and spending the rest of his waking life fighting boredom with his buddies and his dog.
She’s Noel (Zooey Deschanel), 18, she’s been away to an all-girl boarding school since she was 12, now she’s back in town with slim to none interest in finding a job or going to college.
They’re both lost, confused and they become the best of friends in an instant… But she’s never been with a guy while he’s slept with then brushed away every girl in town.
“No one thinks this is going to work.”
“You’ve just described every great success story.”
That’s actually Say Anything I just quoted, but it’s appropriate because “All the Real Girls” is the most truthful and affecting film about young love I’ve seen since Cameron Crowe’s 1989 masterpiece. You get the same truthfulness, the same willingness to let characters act and talk naturally without forcing a plot on them. More than anything, you get a boy and a girl that are complex and funny and beautiful and interesting and you really root for them to make it, but it’s no walk in the park.
Schneider (who also co-wrote the picture) is great, Cusack great; just look at his drunk scene, heartbreaking stuff. Paul’s this guy who knows he’s flawed but is motivated to become a better person, and when he’s with Noel he just knows he can. No wonder, the way Deschanel plays her every guy would improve if he had her looking his way lovingly. Deschanel’s made a strong impression before in supporting parts (notably in The Good Girl) and now that she’s in a leading role she truly gets to shine. Her Noel is absolutely adorable and quirky and sexy and fun, but what really sells it is that while Paul idealizes her, the movie doesn’t.
Writer-director David Gordon Green showed great promise with “George Washington”, his wonderful 2000 film about an unlikely super-hero, and “All the Real Girls” is even better. Both films share glowing Cinemascope cinematography by Tim Orr, relaxed storytelling and a kinship with Terrence Malick’s oeuvre, but the performances are more layered and the script more insightful in this sophomore effort. Its take on relationships is very mature; this is a movie that believes in true love, but that also knows that even people truly in love can hurt each other.
It’s quite exceptional how the film can be so natural and so stylised at the same time. You’ll have long unbroken shots between the two lovers that feel real enough to be voyeuristic (in regards to emotional nakedness, mind you), you get a feel of lives being lived, and then there are bursts of pure whimsy with dancing clowns, a car race, non-sequiturs (“I was so happy I invented peanut butter”) and the such that lift the film into a brighter, almost magical dream place. The story takes place in the real world, but the real world as it feels when you’re in love or when you watch a great film like, say, “All the Real Girls”.