Flawed fancy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

GIRL­FRIEND ★★★

Di­rected by Justin Lerner. Star­ring Evan Sneider, Shan­non Wood­ward, Jack­son Rath­bone, Amanda Plum­mer, Jerad An­der­son

Club, Light House, Dublin, 95 min The main sell­ing point of Justin Lerner’s route-one Amer­i­can in­die is the fine per­for­mance from young Evan Sneider. When an ac­tor with Down syn­drome turns up in a film, the temp­ta­tion is to make all sorts of pa­tro­n­is­ing al­lowances. But Mr Sneider really does the busi­ness here.

Cast adrift in a de­pressed New Eng­land town, Evan (the pro­tag­o­nist shares the ac­tor’s fore­name) gets across a rain­bow of un­flinch­ingly ex­pressed emo­tions: con­tent­ment, fury, mis­ery, love. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to feel pro­tec­tive to­wards the fel­low.

It’s equally dif­fi­cult to avoid de­fen­sive feel­ings for the film it­self. Gir­friend is so nearly a roar­ing success. The ac­tors sur­round­ing Sneider are equally com­mit­ted. Amanda Plum­mer of­fers a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally side­ways cameo as the hero’s ec­cen­tric, car­ing mother. Shan­non Wood­ward works hard as the at­trac­tive, flawed girl he fan­cies.

Sadly, Girl­friend is so soaked in dif­fer­ent classes of cliché that it ul­ti­mately proves hard to take se­ri­ously. Shot in win­tery shades, al­ways at home to the growl­ing hick, the film of­fers us a crap-kick­ing town from cen­tral cast­ing. Wood­ward is the good-time girl who just needs the love of a de­cent man. Jack­son Rath­bone plays the bor­der­line thug who leads her astray. When the plot finds its MacGuf­fin – an un­ex­pected in­her­i­tance – we are pro­pelled deep into the ter­ri­tory of Vic­to­rian melo­drama.

There are more than a few re­minders of Len­nie Abra­ham­son’s Garage: a mis­used man with devel­op­men­tal prob­lems; a morally dis­tracted young woman; a re­mote town on the edge of nowhere. Garage, how­ever, worked much harder at de­vis­ing orig­i­nal ad­ven­tures for its well fleshed-out characters.

By way of con­trast, though re­spon­si­ble and hu­mane, Girl­friend never quite finds its own voice.

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