British actress Juno Temple (daughter of documentarian Julien) started out with memorable roles in “Atonement” and “Notes on a Scandal,” and she’s quickly made a name for herself on this side of the Atlantic too. She may have starred in Harold Raimis’ toxic “Year One,” but managed to nimbly sidestep the fallout from that project, in large part by nixing any expectations she might flower into an English Rose in the Keira Knightely stable, and getting her kit off in Gregg Araki’s spectacularly nuts “Kaboom” earlier in the year and landing a role in the upcoming “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Temple’s since been upgraded to leading woman status in “Dirty Girl,” the first feature length effort from Abe Sylvia, which premiered at TIFF last September and was picked up The Weinstein Company for a healthy seven-figure deal. We reported earlier in the month that Harvey Weinstein was looking to get back to the roots of his mid-1990s heyday he’s still remembered for (look in the index for Peter Biskind’s “Down and Dirty Pictures” and you’ll find both “acquisition rampage” and “conflicts with filmmakers” listed underneath Weinstein’s name), truncating the film into a ninety minute narrative in order to better “broaden its appeal”.
Now that the trailer’s landed over at Apple, it’s clear Harvey Scissorhands’ chubby digits have clearly got the work done. Whilst the title suggests something more along the lines of Temple’s role in the aforementioned “Kaboom,” this seems relatively sedate affair with some out-of-context platitudes (“Sometimes you gotta accept what life throws at you to find out what you’re made of”) thrown in for good measure. The net effect is something affable but generic, even name-checking Joan Jett to remind audiences of a similarly slightly daring but mostly harmless ‘bad girl’ picture “The Runaways.” The narrative plays like a mix between pat high school satire — admittedly more “Mean Girls” than “Slaughter High” as Temple splayed across the hood of a car drawls, “If it’s a man’s world, God wouldn’t’ve made me” — and a cross-country road trip, as “dirty” high schooler Danielle treks from Oklahoma to California, with her overweight gay best friend, Clarke (a debuting Jeremy Dozier), in tow in the hope of finding her biological father on a journey of, uh, self-discovery.
Like most things these days, it’s inexplicably set in the 1980s, the ‘inanimate object as baby’ plotline played for laughs in the trailer is a raggedy old trope taken from Anne Fine’s “Flour Babies” and has been referenced/reworked in everything from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” whilst Temple’s character seems to be heavily riffing on Dede Truitt in “The Opposite of Sex.” Whether it can break out “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine” style or will get clogged in the indie naval-gazing ghetto with the likes of “The Go-Getter” and “Gigantic” remains to be seen. Though we’re not expecting a late Kubrickian masterpiece, if it has the quiet charm of the similarly constructed “Youth in Revolt” (though that had the added benefit of being based on a C.D Payne novel), there may be a lot to enjoy, especially since Temple seems to be a whole heap of fun with the central role.
Dozier’s role, in particular, might be fighting the tide of cliché (he’s a big Joan Crawford fan), but could well be the film’s breakout star; whilst Mary Steenburgen, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy and Dwight Yoakam are set to slum it in Indiewood. And while wrenching a film from its filmmaker is in and of itself an egregious act, the minor frisson surrounding the trailer of “A Single Man” – which downplayed the homosexuality of Colin Firth’s character so much you’d be forgiven for thinking that it didn’t exist — isn’t an issue here, and whatever the extent of Weinstein’s influence and pandering to an imagined audience, the film still shows promise and is presumably not destined to be the next “Square Dance” or – God forbid – “Crossroads.” “Dirty Girl” lands on October 7th.