‘Dirty Girl’: But not dirty enough

October 7, 2011

Abe Sylvia’s “Dirty Girl” has been languishing since its 2010 run at Toronto and spending just a few minutes with it will tell you why.

Though it labors hard, this road-comedy about a fatherless teen-age girl and her virginal gay traveling companion is wit-challenged, awash in clichés and bereft of humor.

The ill-advised Juno Temple plays Danielle, an unhappy teen in Norman, Okla. The setting is a tip-off that stereotypes and stereotypical jokes about life in the Bible Belt will abound, if not resound.

She’s trailer trash, with a mother (Mila Jovavich) who’s about to marry a rulebound Mormon (William H. Macy). Danielle acts out her unhappiness at never having met her father (who Mom has long since told her ran out on the family) by being slutty with any jock who’ll have her.

For her trouble, she’s stuck in a “special” class, where she’s teamed with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), a tubby gay teen. For the class, they must pretend to be parents to a five-pound sack of flour. One of the running jokes – not a funny joke but a running joke – is that the voice-over narration is meant to be the diary jottings of their “daughter,” Joan – and the flour sack has a constantly changing expression on its “face.” (Oh, and they named their “baby” Joan – she for Joan Jett, he for Joan Crawford.)

Clarke’s parents (Dwight Yoakam and Mary Steenburgen, of all unlikely couples) keep threatening to scare him straight with a stint at military school. Since this film is set in 1987, he just wants to rock out and pretend he’s Melissa Manchester or, when he’s feeling butch, Pat Benatar.

Eventually, both Danielle and Clarke reach the end of their respective ropes with Norman, so they steal his father’s prized Cadillac and set off to find her biological father in Fresno. (“Maybe he’ll take us to the beach,” she says, which is meant to be a California joke, but one likely to go over the head of anyone who doesn’t realize Fresno is landlocked.)

Really, why continue? Sylvia dots the landscape with a male hustler (Nicholas D’Agosto) and other desert oddballs the couple encounter along the way. For variety, Sylvia has the mothers of the two runaways join forces to try to get to Fresno first and avert – what? Actual laughs?

If so, mission accomplished. “Dirty Girl” barely elicits a chuckle and, indeed, provokes groans with its obvious use of ’80s artifacts. Temple is much better in the upcoming “Killer Joe”; with luck, she’ll be able to get this movie expunged from her filmography, like a juvenile offense that is wiped from one’s record when she comes of age.

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