Throughout the years of extensive movie watching I’ve learned that the most disappointing films aren’t the bad ones but those that don’t use their potential to be good. With talented Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen, Very Good Girls sounded like a coming of age movie I’d like but as it turned out, there was nothing very good about these teenage girls at all.
Set in New York, the movie was to tell a story about two best friends who decide to loose their virginity before going to college – yes, it sounds cliché but through drama it was to deliver a good indie movie… or at least that is what I was expecting. Instead of feeling like a movie that does some extensive soul searching into the minds of teenagers, friends and first loves, it felt like a joke and I’m saying this in the nicest way possible. It’s not that I hated it, it’s that I wanted so much more than Very Good Girls was capable to deliver.
One of the first things that confused me about the movie was its shooting locations. We’re all very familiar with New York, even if we haven’t been there, from Home Alone to New York, I Love You to million other movies, the Big Apple has been captured on film countless of times. Now, Very Good Girls was set in New York, and though it had few urban settings, it was giving me more of a California vibe and therefore, instead of introducing the different sides of New York, it felt disconnected. This is a very interesting problem to me because it’s a rare thing to be confused by shooting locations, or confused about the astethics of the background . I’ll say this, I think the urban beach vibe serves as a great idea, it’s just that Very Good Girls’ execution of it was weak and lacking in continuity.
That brings me to the biggest problem Very Good Girls suffered from, the mediocre script. This is something that no good actor or director can salvage, and when the weak material is written and directed by the same person, it doesn’t end well. Naomi Foner, first time director, mother to Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, most likely didn’t set herself out to fail but it’s exactly what she did. My guess is, she was too disconnected from the world of teenagers, to far from it to understand the mind set of kids nowadays. They don’t ask to read Silvia Plath before going in for that first kiss, no matter how rebel or misunderstood they are – and even if they do, it wouldn’t be beach blond boys who hardly talk.
And even if it didn’t felt like I was watching two teenagers fall in love, I expected more out of the more complicated matters that Very Good Girls tried to tackle – the death of a father and the sexual harassment by an older man. Two topics that are hard enough to capture in one film where both cramped together, which also had a sexual awakening plot happening and a betrayal of a best friend! With not enough time to focus on neither of these story lines, Very Good Girls was floating and never looked under the surface long enough to tell a sufficient story, to build character, to be as good as I wanted.
Keeping in the tone of frustrations, Lilly (Fanning) and Gerry (Olsen) lacked chemistry for me and while the movie was more focused on Lilly, I desperately wanted to know more about Gerry. Olsen’s supporting role shined, and it shined so bright next to Fanning that I didn’t care about anything other than Gerry’s struggles which were undermined by the love between Lilly and David (Boyd Holbrook). On top of that, when Gerry’s father passed, the plot still managed to make it all about David which in turn made it all about Lilly! For the love of god, Gerry just lost her dad, why is she gushing about David, talking about how she can’t think about anything else but him and so on!? Why??
To add to that, David’s character hardly spoke in Very Good Girls and though he managed to steal the hearts of two leading ladies all at once, I as an audience member wasn’t convinced. To Holbrook’s defence, I think the problem was in the script and he can’t be blamed for lacking appeal when all he did was giving the blue steel look and banging Fanning’s character. Peter Sarsgaard’s character Joe had more conviction than Holbrook, and Joe was hardly on the screen which, by the way, is a waste of an actor!
Finally, to end this, what seems to be the most negative review in a long long time, I’m going to say something positive about Very Good Girls. With all of its problems, with the mediocre script and the lack of connection I felt most of the time, Elizabeth Olsen was my favorite part. But like I said in the beginning, the most disappointing are the movies that fail to impress us when we expect it to happen, and even Olsen couldn’t save Very Good Girls for me.