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Billy Bob Thornton,
The needy teenager Rena Grubb lives with her dysfunctional family of losers in a trailer park. The most popular boy in her school is dating her only for sex, and does not want to be seen with her. Her brother Jay is gay; her older half-sister Barbie is a bitch; and her mother Madge works hard in several low-qualification jobs to raise money to support her family. Rena is asking her mother to go to the annual picnic with her beloved missing low-fife father John Grubb, who is in prison sentenced to two life sentences. Rena is pregnant and collects the cards her father sends to her from the prison. When Madge decides to go with her family to the picnic, and along the day, the family finds how mean and nasty John is, shattering the dreams of Rena with her father. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Pretty high school dropout Jena Malone (as Rena Grubb) is suicidal, after being left pregnant by her boyfriend. Fortunately, Ms. Malone is ineffective at killing herself, and returns to her trailer park home. Also returning is budding gay brother Brad Renfro (as Jay Grubb), fresh from four boring weeks fishing with his uncle. They, and trashy harlot sister Alicia Witt (as Barbie), live with pot-smoking mom Michelle Forbes (as Madge Grubb). Prompted by Malone, the family four decide to attend an annual prison picnic, to see absent father Chris Mulkey (as John Grubb), who is serving time for two murders.
At the picnic, the reunited Grubbs are joined by Mr. Mulkey's prison pal Clifton Collins Jr. (as Buddy). Then, skeletons begin falling out of the family closet "We crawl on our bellies and eat the dead," is how Mr. Renfro describes the Grubb family. Jordan Brady's "American Girl" has some good moments, and is well-acted. But, the "dark comedy" aspect doesn't really succeed; it might have been better to film Scott Sandoe's story as a drama.
Director Brady is at his best when the family begins their picnic. Malone does a great job with her character's less suicidal, more introspective moments; the growth of her romanticism to rage is very nicely played. Renfro's character is hardly second rate; and, without the numerous suicide attempts, it's a more satisfying story. Renfro, and the film, are helped immensely by the appearance of Mr. Collins Jr.'s sex "Buddy". Clifton Collins Jr. is definitely "Best Supporting Actor" worthy.
******* American Girl (10/16/02) Jordan Brady ~ Jena Malone, Brad Renfro, Clifton Collins Jr.
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