Sundance 2016 Review: White Girl be trippin!
Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl is a semi autobiographical tale about a girl named Leah (Morgan Saylor) that moves to a sketchy NYC neighborhood while attending college. Upon moving into her new place, Leah becomes infatuated with a street corner drug dealer named Blue (Brian ‘Sene’ Marc). The two spend most of their time together having sex, selling drugs, and doing cocaine. One afternoon while sitting down at a restaurant for lunch, Blue goes to make a sale and gets arrested by an undercover cop. Uncertain of what to do next, Leah decides to sell all of the remaining cocaine and hire a lawyer who can hopefully get the love of her life out of jail.
White Girl was one of my top 10 most anticipated films at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. I am a huge supporter of filmmakers that aren’t afraid of tackle difficult subject matters. Last year, one of my favorite films at the festival was James White which is a brutally raw and realistic tale about drug use, death, and depression. White Girl sadly doesn’t go in this direction.
I understand that writer/director Elizabeth Wood wanted to tell this story which if rumor has it, is loosely based on her life. Where the problem begins however is that Woods seemed to forget that she needed to give the audience a reason to care. Maybe people do live their lives like this but why should the audience care about them? Every character in this film is an ugly person, not on the outside but on the inside. In less than five minutes, we see Leah get called into her bosses office (Justin Bartha) where she sniffs cocaine and then proceeds to suck him off.
The film continues this formula for the next 85 minutes with scenes very similar to the one mentioned above. Every guy Leah meets wants to fuck her. Everyone she comes in contact with is a druggie. There is no one in this entire film that thinks about their actions or questions Leah’s behavior. The entire runtime is spent showing Leah screwing someone in various locations throughout NYC and/or selling drugs to various lowlifes at night clubs.
By telling this story, Wood wanted it to be as raw as possible. The sex scenes do feel dirty and unstimulated. The same can be said about the drug use. My problem is not that it’s showing these things but that there is nothing else to the film besides that. You can only show the same thing happening for a certain amount of time before it becomes repetitive and boring.
To be 100% honest, I hated every moment of White Girl because it never went anywhere and had nothing to say. It doesn’t tell a story and there is no substance as to what is happening. We see that Leah is trying to get her boyfriend out of jail but my question is why should I care? The script never gives us any background on these characters. There is nothing presented to the audience to make us care or root for them. All that is shown throughout are people fucking and doing drugs. It takes more to making a film than showing a girl sniff cocaine off a guys dick.
Despite its graphic nature, White Girl is nothing like Larry Clark’s Kids or any films like it that that tackle sex and drug use. Kids, in-between the the raw sex and drugs, tackled teenage relationships and HIV. White Girl offers no insight or outcome at all. It doesn’t even take a stance. What the film does do is reinforce negative stereotypes of hispanics and puerto ricans and paints them in a negative light. I guess you can also say that it shows that white shorties can party hard and like to fuck.
What makes White Girl even worse are the relationships that are haphazardly thrown into the film. Leah and Katie (India Menuez) are suppose to be best friends yet they never seem to talk or do anything together. Their relationship seems more like two strangers who met on street rather than best friends. In addition, the love story between Leah and Blue was poorly developed and forced. With this relationship being so poorly executed, the whole struggle of getting Blue out of jail didn’t really bring anything to the film. That’s a huge negative because the entire second half relies on the strength of their relationship but there just isn’t enough to it for anyone to care.
Some may argue that watching White Girl is like watching real life unfold right in front of your eyes. I grew up right outside of NYC and now live in Los Angeles so I know people fuck and sell drugs. Again, please remind me why do I want to watch this? I don’t need a 90 minute film showing me that on repeat. Most moviegoers go to the movies to be entertained or feel something. Independent film lovers watch films with engaging stories and interesting characters. White Girl processes none of these things. The film barely has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s just an nonstop orgy of sex and drugs.
If anything, I would compare White Girl to a college party porn. There is nothing more to this film than watching people get messed up and fuck exactly like they do in a college party porn video. Every character is an unlikable asshole and every moment is filled with negativity with no hope in sight. Even the film’s ending is abrupt and presents the audience with no closure whatsoever.
In the end, I repeat that I understand that this story is personal but as an outsider I was never given a reason to care. There is no character development. There is no story. There is no point. It takes more than a series of scenes involving sex and drug use to make a film. You need to make sure that audiences can connect or relate to the characters even if they are assholes. You have to give them something to latch onto. Wood never does that and what makes it worse is that the film is just ugly all around with no redeeming qualities. White Girl is not only one of the most disappointing films at this years Sundance Film Festival but one of the worst films of the year.
MovieManMenzel’s rating for White Girl is a 2 out of 10.