Written & Directed by Naomi Foner
Starring Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Ellen Barkin, Clarke Gregg, Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss & Peter Saarsgard
Now Playing in Select Theaters
It’s pretty clear that sex is the primary subject of Very Good Girls. You don’t even have to know the basic premise– two girls make a pact to lose their virginity before they leave for college—to find that out. You just have to watch the opening scene at an outdoor grocery market. An old woman is innocently inspecting melons and soon enough the camera is briefly inspecting her chest.
That’s about the most clever thing Naomi Foner, making her directorial debut, films in this uninspired, heavy drama that should really be a breezy summer vignette. And it’s really a shame considering the cast she has assembled. Dakota Fanning as Lilly and Elizabeth Olsen as Gerri take most of the screen time as attractive, edgy teens in Brooklyn. They ride bikes on the Brighton Beach boardwalk and anxiously kill time before they leave home.
The problem is that their parents are actually played by some pretty good actors who unfortunately have little to do. Ellen Barkin and Clarke Gregg are involved in a frustrated marriage that pushes away Lilly, while Demi Moore and Richard Dreyfuss play Gerri’s supposedly embarrassing liberal mom and dad. They’re cornered into insulting subplots. You shouldn’t make entrée steaks into bite size appetizers.
On one of their bike rides the girls bump into an ice-cream vendor named David (Boyd Holbrook), a dreamy beach blonde mannequin. Gerri sets her sights on him while he locks eyes with Lilly. The levity of the spontaneous encounter evaporates. Foner zooms in on Fanning’s blue eyes now fallen into a contemplative stare and quickly the tale turns into a Young Adult novel. Secrets, guilt, angst, tears, sex.
David is actually an aspiring photographer and lives in a gothic looking loft in Manhattan used for photo shoots. He wants to move to Paris, a goal that corresponds tidily with the impending trips to college. None of this really makes much sense, including a bizarre photo shoot at a basketball court. Most of the dialogue is repetitive. Gerri keeps asking, “Should I call him?” “You think he likes me?” Lilly rolls her eyes because she’s actually dating him.
Foner is an Oscar-nominated writer, famous for penning Running on Empty and for also being the mother of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. But there is something out of touch here trying to channel Little Darlings in 2014 New York City. Another meaningless sidebar involves Peter Saarsgard (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s husband) as Lilly’s pervy boss at a touristy riverboat company.
Olsen is too old and wise for this role. It’s not usually a problem but she’s not right for Gerri. The entire time as she naively gloats about speaking to David, you can’t help but feel she knows what Lilly’s been doing. It’s a shame. At a certain point you just want these girls to go to college already. They’re more than ready and so are you.
– Jake Kring-Schreifels