In Los Angeles, a story about a dead girl, told in five chapters. A woman, miserable in her circumscribed life caring for her domineering mother, finds a body. Somehow, this discovery allows her to change. At the morgue, the sister of a girl missing for 15 years believes the body is that of her sister; this liberates her. An older woman, married to a man who pays her little attention, finds evidence in a storage unit; how will she handle it? The mother of the dead girl, who left home some years before, visits the last place her daughter lived and makes her own discoveries. Last, we flash back to the victim's final day. Written by
Not a revolutionary experience but great acting and strong script
"The Dead Girl", written and directed by Karen Moncrieff, is a haunting story of how six women are affected by the gruesome, untimely death of one young woman. Each affected woman is suffering in their own emotional prison. Arden, Leah, Beverly, Ruth, Rosetta, and Melora all gain new life and opportunity because of their connection to the dead girl.
Arden, played by Toni Collette, lives and cares for her abusive mother. Arden's mother, Piper Laurie's character, has such an emotional hold on Arden that she doesn't even feel that she can go on a date with out being humiliated. Arden finds the dead girl on her family's land, and for some reason it gives her new courage to explore a life outside her mother's grasp. After the girl is removed from Arden's family stead, she is taken to the local Medical Examiners Office.
The Examiner's intern, Leah, Rose Byrne's character, examines her and believes that she is her long lost sister, missing for 15 years. Struggling to get past her grief since her sister left, believing she is dead finally allows her to get on with her life stalled for so long. She and her mother, Beverley, played by Mary Steenburgen, and father, Bruce Davidson's character, have different methods for struggling with the past. She goes on a date with Derek, played by James Franko, and begins down the road away from her missing sister and into a life of her own!
Mary Beth Hurt plays Ruth, a woman trapped in her marriage to an absent bastard by her strong religious convictions. Even after she threatens her husband, Carl, Nick Searcy's character, for being gone all the time and for sleeping around, she is conflicted about leaving him. Of all the characters, she is the most pitiful and deplorable. Her religion stunts her common sense, her past cuts it down completely. At the end of her story I wanted to punch her in the face. Ruth is my favorite character.
After the dead girl is identified, her mother, Melora, comes to collect and identify her body. Melora, played by Marsha Gay Harden, finds about her daughter, who ran away years ago, from her girlfriend and co-worker, Rosetta. Together Rosetta, Kerry Washington's character, and Melora collect the remnants of what's left of her daughter's life. Melora's is obviously pained by her daughter's death but her emotions become unraveled when she learns why her daughter left.
Finally we meet Brittany Murphy's character, Krista. Krista is the dead girl. Her sad and tragic life can really only lead to Arden's family farm. Choices she made and choices people made for her are equally gut-punching and in the end, who made which decision doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is she died.
The writing in "The Dead Girl" leaves you dumbstruck and in pain. It's as if Karen Moncrieff drew a line for each of the characters starting years before the dead girl and stretching years in the future. The dead girl is the point where each of the lines intersect and change direction. At first it seems the women's lives bear no similarities to each other but their differences are only as deep as a coat of paint. Each of them is shackled to the past, tied away from the potential their future holds. They tug on their restraints, waiting for anything to break them free. Each of the stories is full of unspoken fear and a frightening depth.
All of the acting in "The Dead Girl" is astoundingly disquieting. Each of the performances is compelling and all of the actors were completely entrenched in character. Marsha Gay Harden's performance is the shining star of this film. Her character is a well mannered, suburban, house wife who learns in the probably the most gut wrenching way about her misjudgments and bad decisions. In a scene where she learns how her bad decision making has hurt her daughter, the surprise and rush of emotion completely changed my view of the character. Her utter desperation and painful honesty made me wish I were in the room to console her.
Each of the character's stories is shot in slightly different ways. The difference is subtle, but if you pay attention, you can see it. There is nothing exceptional about the cinematography, but it isn't a big budget movie either.
The Dead Girl won't be a revolutionary experience for anyone but it is one to see if you desire a strong plot and noteworthy acting.
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