“All the Real Girls” is a tender story of young love, set against the unlikely backdrop of a blue-collar Southern town.
The town is the sort of place where men work in factories during the week and on their cars on the weekends. They drink beer, own dogs, and get in fights. And yet, in writer/director David Gordon Green’s elegant film, they all have souls, too, ultimately capable of expressing great emotion even if the physical manifestation of it is punching out a car window.
Physical activity is at a minimum here. Most of the film’s time is spent on establishing a very real sense of place; even if we don’t know which town this is, or even which state (the press notes indicate it’s North Carolina), we definitely know the type. Tim Orr’s cinematography perfectly matches the film’s yearning, wistful tone. The characters seem real.
The bulk of the scenes include conversations between 18-year-old Noel (Zooey Deschanel) and her new beau, Paul (Paul Schneider). Noel grew up in the town but has been at boarding school the past few years; Paul is part of the regular macho crowd, known for his frequent female conquests.
It is that last point that causes Noel’s brother, Tip (Shea Whigham), to disapprove of the romance. Tip and Paul are part of the same circle; no one knows better that Paul has a tendency to get infatuated, get lucky and then get lost.
That constitutes the film’s conflict, but aside from a few flurries of activity, it is put in the background. At the forefront is Paul and Noel’s courtship, played with natural, sweet awkwardness by Schneider and Deschanel. It’s one of the most down-to-earth teen romances I’ve ever seen in a film, full of optimism but not glamorized. Schneider is average-looking and out of shape; Deschanel plays Noel with a gentility that is tempered with small-town abruptness; as a pair, they are a far cry from most movie couples precisely because they’re so believable.
The film has a leisurely pace, which, yes, is critic-speak for “it’s slow.” No one has less patience for an unnecessarily slow film than I do, but it works here. The film brings you into its world and into the lives of its characters in such a way that spending time there a pleasure.
A- (1 hr., 45 min.; )
In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.