A movie that had all the ingredients to be really interesting but seems content to just skirt by, Very Good Girls is a slight disappointment on almost all fronts. That being said, it’s not unenjoyable or poorly done, you’re just consistently aware how much better it could have been. Well respected long time screenwriter Naomi Foner makes her directorial debut here and it’s hard to figure out why this was the one she needed to direct. Her script pales in comparison to her previous work like Running On Empty, while the top notch cast that she assembled has very little to do. Aside from a very nice soundtrack (all of the music was done by Jenny Lewis), you wish there was more on all accounts here in this film. Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen are solid, but they’re characters are underwritten, while all of the other supporting players are barely there. Coming of age stories about teenagers looking to lose their virginities are nothing new, but you can still put a unique spin on them, regardless of if you go for comedy or drama with the premise. Here though, it’s hardly the road less traveled for the flick. Very Good Girls has some strong moments, but the final product is a disappointment, so it’s not the type of movie I can recommend.
It’s the summer before Lilly (Fanning) and Gerri (Olsen) leave for college and they plan on spending their last days enjoying their home in Brooklyn. They go to Brighton Beach (right by where I live, oddly enough…the film does have a distinct Brooklyn feel, I’ll give it that), where they run into an ice cream vendor a bit older than them named David (Boyd Holbrook). He’s too cool for school, which initially annoys Lilly, but Gerri is smitten. Gerri begins seeking him out, and so does Lilly to a degree, though she’s surprised to find out that David really only is interested in her. Gerri has no idea and continues pursuit, while Lilly is basically in a full on relationship with him in secret, her first such sexual one. They both were looking to lose their virginity, but didn’t plan on falling for the same guy. Between this soon to arise tension and their home lives (Lilly lives in a buttoned up household with uptight parents Ellen Barkin and Clark Gregg, while Gerri lives with hippy parental units Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore), their friendship is about to be majorly tested.
Dakota Fanning is the best part of this movie, aside from the music. She does her best to add layers to the character that aren’t on the page. She has a quiet intensity that makes you often wonder what she’s thinking. Fanning keeps getting better as she gets older, so this is very promising. Elizabeth Olsen is never bad in anything, and that’s the case again here, but her character is so thinly written that there’s only so much she can do. Her part is as one note as the supporting players, but she’s supposedly a co lead. Even Olsen can’t make that work. As for Boyd Holbrook, he may look like Ryan Gosling and sound like Tom Hardy in Warrior, but he basically acts like early Channing Tatum. No, that’s not good. He mumbles and tries to appear deep, but it’s almost a parody of the sort of roles Gosling takes. He has no chemistry with anyone and annoyed me more than anything else. The aforementioned Barkin, Dreyfuss, Gregg, and Moore have absolutely nothing to do except be annoying to their children, while Peter Sarsgaard also pops up in a throwaway role. Fanning and Olsen come out of this the best, though neither is completely unscathed.
The only decision as a filmmaker that I think Naomi Foner totally aced here with her debut is the music by Lewis. It sets the mood of the picture well, better than her writing or directing do. This movie hits almost all of the cliches of the genre you’d expect, but it doesn’t seem to know or care that they are cliches. That’s a fatal flaw for this film, which with a little more creativity could have been more enjoyable. It’s still not bad, but at every turn you see the better flick that it could have been. Foner might be a good director one day, but Very Good Girls is evidence that she should probably work on her writing as well before she attempts this again.
Basically, unless you’re a huge fan of Lewis’ music or a devotee of someone in the cast, you shouldn’t feel the need to seek out Very Good Girls. It’s the kind of film that thinks it’s treading profound teenager territory when it really has no idea what teens are like. I didn’t overtly dislike the movie, but I was too aware of its problems throughout to even come close to recommending it. Very Good Girls is just not very good…plain and simple. You can do better.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!