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|Index||12 reviews in total|
Genuinely touching film about a guy with Down's syndrome who finds
himself in a very different kind of love triangle.
Toughest performance may have been by Shannon Woodward who must play a sympathetic, conflicted character as she picks her way through an emotional and ethical minefield. Evan as Evan also put on a brave performance. Subtle yet effective cinematography, great transitions.
None of the writing seemed overwrought, and judging by the QA, Shannon herself had a lot of room to edit the script on the fly.
And the guy who played Russ also managed to bring moments of sympathy to his character despite being a very scary jerk.
A relatively straightforward film that still manages to surprise.
Girlfriend is the first full-length film from writer/director Justin
Lerner. I first met him and reviewed his impressive short The
Replacement Child at the 2008 Santa Barbara Film Festival, so I was
eagerly awaiting his first feature. It's an auspicious debut for this
talented young director and it far exceeded my expectations.
The film stars Evan Sneider (The Replacement Child), Shannon Woodward (The Haunting of Molly Hartley), Jackson Rathbone (The Twilight Saga), and Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction).
Evan Sneider plays Evan, a young man with Down's Syndrome who longs for a girlfriend and the kind of rich life he believes he's always been entitled to. He never sees himself as a victim or as someone with an affliction, in need of pity or special treatment. Evan has a big heart and just wants someone to share it with besides his doting mother Celeste (Amanda Plummer). She lives for him and he lives for her. The object of his affection is Candy (Shannon Woodward), who still harbors feelings for her abusive ex-boyfriend Russ (Jackson Rathbone) as she searches for someone to provide for her young son.
Unexpected circumstances send Evan down an unimaginable road, one which keeps the viewer twisting and turning, never knowing whether his next encounter will provide comfort or danger. Empathy for him plants the seeds of discomfort and the ensuing suspense builds throughout the film.
Girlfriend truly has the sparse look and gritty feel of the "sweet little American indie" that I search for at festivals. Natural lighting is used where possible, and flashy visual effects are kept to a minimum. The viewer simply observes as the story unfolds. Quyen Tran's skillful cinematography takes full advantage of the film's claustrophobic settings by shooting through windows and doorways -- the technique known as frame within a frame -- rather than crowding the characters. To provide depth, Lerner and Tran devised a plan whereby each actor would be filmed a certain way -- Evan with closeups, Rathbone with a long lens -- and it's strikingly effective in its elegance.
The use of long takes without dialogue is one of the most powerful elements of this film. Periods of silence can often say more than words on a script as the viewer is forced to create the conversation in his own head. Actors who can communicate through facial expressions and simple gestures don't need lines to have an impact on the audience. It's one of the most impactful and dramatic techniques used in Girlfriend and left me with a sense of wonder.
If you could hear a gem it would have the poignant music scored by lead actor Rathbone's band 100 Monkeys. The members of the band -- Rathbone, Jerad Anderson, M. Lawrence Abrams, Ben Johnson, and Ben Graupner -- scored and wrote original songs for the film. The bond between the writers and the project is apparent -- Rathbone stars and serves as co-producer, Anderson also acts and produces -- and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It's always hard to single anyone out in such a brilliant ensemble cast but this is clearly Evan Sneider's film. It was written for him and with much love, and it shows. There's no discerning whether or not the plot is based on experiences he's had in real life. Far from being exploitative, Lerner's narrative never uses Evan's condition as a crutch (and neither does Evan). The story would work even if the character didn't have Down's Syndrome, and that's a testament to Lerner's knowledge of, and sensitivity about, the issue.
Shannon Woodward puts her heart and soul into the role of Candy. One can almost feel her emotional pain as she struggles to put food on the table and keep a roof over her son's head. The viewer is equally spiteful toward Russ, a first class villain who never shows a tender side except in deception. Rathbone's spiteful portrayal is in stark contrast to the goodness surrounding most of the characters. He is evil personified. Amanda Plummer's star turn as Evan's mother Celeste is simply heartwrenching. It's clear that Lerner gave his actors free reign to improvise. It works because they clearly have developed working relationships based on trust -- with the filmmaker as well as castmates. The unscripted dialogue sounds authentic because it's real.
This movie about (and starring) a young man with Down's Syndrome has some scenes which may make audiences uncomfortable but, to me, that's one of the definitions of true art -- it moves you, makes you happy, sad, angry -- it affects you emotionally on a deeply personal level. Girlfriend can be hard to watch at times but is one of those films that deserves the label "important."
First, I'm not part of the cast or crew. I'm not "affiliated" with the
film in any manner. I watched it at the 2011 Down Syndrome Congress
National Convention, and I thought it was well worth the time.
Interestingly enough, I wouldn't classify it as a "Down Syndrome" film. I believe it will be just as entertaining and worthwhile to people who have no affiliation with Down as it is to those who do. It's a solid story that highlights some very believable situations.
The situations related to Down are very poignant, despite not being the focus of the movie -- Evan's ability to care for himself barely scrapes "minimal." He doesn't have the acumen to deal with an antagonistic boss, he makes some very poor financial choices, and at times he simply wanders off in a child-like manner. However, when his mother dies, he's left without any kind of caretaker. Unfortunately, his situation is anything but a flight of movie fancy; it happens every day.
Still, Evan, Down Syndrome, and Evan's uncertain future aren't the focus of the film. Candy brings in another very realistic element: a single mother struggling financially, stuck in an abusive relationship after making some poor relationship choices.
I thought the acting was quite good. In particular, Candy's reaction to Evan's infatuation (and the depth of his infatuation) was superb. Jackson Rathbone did well as Russ, too -- with Russ being such a jerk, it would have been easy to make him a caricature "bad guy." Real people are never that one-dimensional, though, and Rathbone added to the realism of the movie by showing some real internal conflict. Yes, Russ is a jerk, but part of that personality is the result of some internal vulnerability and real world events.
And Evan Sneider was excellent. Another reviewer complained that Evan was "obviously coached." Well, yes, that's what director do. They coached Katherine Hepburn, they coach Tom Cruise, they coach William H. Macy, and I'm sure Justin Lerner coached Evan. Both Justin and Evan did a fine job.
The filming itself was great. I was really impressed by how well the choice of shots emphasized the characters' personalities or relationship with the world.
I'm pretty surprised at the snide comments from some of the other reviewers, particularly intimations that this subject matter is somehow "overdone." One reviewer mentions "Life Goes On" -- news flash, folks, that series wrapped up 17 years ago. And the idea that "Girlfriends" is exploitive is ludicrous. The fact that Evan's character is mentally challenged is essential to the plot.
Overall, this was an excellent film and certainly worth taking the time to watch.
Girlfriend is a dark film, a very heavy film, weighing down on you as
you watch it. There is so much going on beneath the surface of the
artfully simplistic filming techniques. The viewer is forced to pay
close attention to the cues within a wide shot, the secrets behind a
dialogue, and the tragedies behind a profile.
The core cast is small, and we get to know each character in depth. To me, this adds to the small town feel provided by the setting of Girlfriend, Wayland, Massachusetts.
Evan is a kind and pure heart, and everything from the way he is filmed to the lines he says presents him as such. We simply see him, in his small world, reaching out to and caring about the people around him. This is exemplified when he decides to give a large sum of money to the woman he has crushed on since high school, Candy.
Candy has a difficult time believing that Evan's gift is from the kindness of his heart and not a means to an end. It is here that we get a glimpse into what her life has been like. Her past experiences and relationships have left her jaded. She's lost, held together only by her love for her son.
Russ Russ took me by surprise at how vile he was, even being prepared by the synopsis and the movie trailer. He is Candy's ex-boyfriend; violent, alcoholic, and just as lost as she. He still involves himself in her life, as does she with his, and the interaction is never healthy.
Kenny is a key pressure point in the story, helping to create conflict in an already volatile situation. His presence on screen is brief, but his impact on the story remains throughout.
During a question and answer bit after the second showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, someone asked the cast and crew about the filming techniques used in the film. I found the cinematographer's response to be very intriguing. She explained that each main character was filmed in a unique way that exaggerates the nature of their situation and personality.
Evan was filmed in wide, steady angles, so that we could see him in the middle of his world. Long takes allow the viewer to experience the passing of time in his overwhelmingly lonely reality.
Candy was always filmed lost in a tight frame, between other people or objects, to demonstrate how suffocated her character was. This certainly came across to me, often times feeling stifled just watching it.
Russ is a dark and mysterious character, and the camera got this across by shooting him from a distance and obstructing the view. Russ is always lurking in the back of your mind from the moment you meet him. My first time seeing the film, I was often left with a knot in my stomach after his scenes, just from the feeling of dread that his persona left with me.
I wholeheartedly believe that the cast chosen for this movie was beyond perfect. My congratulations go out to the production team for putting together such a successful band of talent. Evan Sneider is without a doubt the star, and his portrayal of everything from kindness, innocence, longing, hurt, and anger left me breathless. He masterfully delivered some of the most impacting lines in the film.
Shannon Woodward seems to be worn beyond her years as Candy. She presents the character as so lost and hopeless, tired of life in general, with little to cling to. There was a moment of having to return my mind to reality after the film when I had the pleasure of meeting Shannon, sweet and vibrant and humble.
Jackson Rathbone as Russ was absolutely haunting. From the moment you meet his character in the movie, the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you just know he's nothing but trouble. All through the film he demonstrates time and time again that he is in a dark, dark place. It is a testament to Jackson's talent as an actor that there are moments when you find yourself hurting for Russ, and you feel conflicted about it. Jackson's mastery of Russ' facial expressions was what impressed me the most. In any scene, you can see and hear what Russ is putting out there, but see another emotion cross his face; doubt, revulsion with himself, shame, hurt. It is in these moments that you see the man behind the hard exterior, the man that knows when he is doing wrong, the man that feels emotions like anyone else.
So much went into making this film as beautiful as it was, and my review wouldn't be complete without mentioning the original score and soundtrack. The score was composed by the band 100 Monkeys, whose members include Jerad Anderson and Jackson Rathbone (both Girlfriend actors and producers,) M. Lawrence Abrams, Ben Johnson, and Ben Graupner. Its sound is raw and often times dark, much like the story, with subtle drones and dramatic crescendos that aided the suspense and anticipation prevalent throughout the movie. The soundtrack features well placed songs by talents such as Daniel Johnston and Spencer Bell. It is clear that everything, from the cast, the camera angles, the dialogue and the music, was chosen with the utmost care and attention, and was, to me, a total success.
I came away from the movie feeling that it was a very bold and very important film. It touches on so many themes; prejudice, necessity, humanity, abuse, love. Seeing it twice wasn't enough, and I feel such a strong desire for everyone in the world to get to see it now.
I congratulate everyone involved on an amazing and touching film. It has important statements to make, and I know that it will continue to make them as it wins the hearts of everyone that sees it.
"Girlfriend" wasn't fully all that I had expected it to be. That being
said, don't get me wrong, because it is not a bad movie, far from it.
"Girlfriend" is a beautifully told drama, I had just initially expected
a little bit more from it. Though it was good entertainment.
The story in the movie is about Evan, who has Down Syndrome, living with his mom in a small town, where he helps her out at a diner. One day his mom doesn't wake up in the morning as she usually does, and Evan is left alone in a world, where he is coming to terms with life around him and being in love with Candy, a single mom who he went to high school with - but she is having issues with a former boyfriend, and he is violent.
"Girlfriend" is a beautifully told story about life and relationships that transcends beyond the usual shallow approach many of us actually have towards these matters, whether we acknowledge it or not. It tells the story of an innocent youth with a heartfelt crush on a woman. And it tells the story of not being "normal" in the terms of what we as a society has branded as "normal". It was a very moving story and it was nicely executed on the screen.
The cinematography was just brilliant. Lots of great camera work here, it was subtle, but still so beautiful, and there was some very emotional and symbolic images throughout the movie, that was really brought to life by the great visionary eye of the camera crew.
As for the acting, well then I think they had some nice people on the list, and newcomer to the movie industry, Evan Sneider (playing Evan) really did a great job. Thumbs up on that. His performance was very natural and believable, and it was charismatic and right on the money. But also the performance by Shannon Woodward (playing Candy) was quite good, having good chemistry with Evan on the screen. Cast as the violent ex-boyfriend Russ was Jackson Rathbone, and he was really well cast for that role, he was very charismatic and acted out that role to perfection. Playing Evan's mom, Celeste, was Amanda Plummer, who despite just having a supporting minor role in the movie, really left a great impact on the rest of the movie even after her character died.
If you like dramas that very well could have been taken straight out of our ordinary every day lives, then you definitely should check out "Girlfriend". It is a beautiful movie with a great story and a big heart. It is the type of movie that will stick with you for some time, because it was just that beautiful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Girlfriend is a film that I think really has a subtle power to it. The main character, Evan, has Downs Syndrome and yet this is never overtly a point of the film. It's his obstacle to love and one he has to deal with alone. (SPOILER ALERT)Adding to this loneliness is the fact that his mother passes away unexpectedly. Atmospheric and very well shot, this small town story allows you in on Evan's story and his motivations for his actions. Unlike a lot of big budget films that leave you wondering nothing this movie stays with you and begs discussion. The film surprises you with the heart and warmth of the main character and how his struggle paints the struggles of other characters in the film. If you are at all jaundiced by current big budget fare and needing a jolt of real filmmaking, check this film out. Justin Lerner is a director to watch and I'll be very interested to see the next film he makes.
First - for the people who go straight to the bad reviews: Click on
each of the ID's of those 4 negative reviews done within a few days of
each other. They have names like "MovieBuff" etc. Not a single one of
those reviewers have had ANY other activity on IMDb aside from panning
this movie. Zilch. All the bad reviews are the same one regurgitated.
Which leads me to believe someone has a problem w/the film makers. It
is insane this movie has such a low rating, and pretty sad that IMDb
would allow something so obvious to go on unnoticed.
Now on to the movie. I won't go into specifics because it is sort of difficult to go that far into the details without spoiling - since part of the allure is in the flow of the movie. On the movie box, it says "mesmerizing". I felt the same way - I was waiting for it to happen - it being quite a few things. Some I guessed right, some I guessed wrong, some I didn't see coming at all. Some that I saw coming that did, didn't come at the time. It's an unpredictable movie, which I find appealing. The plot is pretty straight forward, it's more about the direction. Where is this movie going - like waiting for a train wreck you KNOW is coming.
The acting was great for the most part. I thought the diner manager was awful, I could have read better lines and I have zero experience acting! He had like 2 lines in the movie and they stick out because they were so insincere. Maybe that was by design, but I doubt it.
The female lead does well, she is conflicted and it shows and it is believable. All of the characters in this movie are flawed, save for the child, who, from what I took away from the movie, played a bigger role than it would seem.
The lead actor, with Down Syndrome, does a fantastic job. I wouldn't say he had to "act" much. He was obviously very believable, never did I feel he was being coached. It was a sincere performance, one he clearly understood, and at times his sincerity was touching. His reaction to situations, no matter how tragic or good were very even - as a parent of a high functioning autistic, it was dead on.
Character development was acceptable. Not enough to where you care so deeply about one or two characters - I was more interested in seeing what was going to happen. Who is going to get what they deserve, etc. I didn't get emotional at all, and maybe that was the intention of the film maker. He could have easily gone that route.
In the end, there is a moral to the story, certainly there is an innocence to it, and it explores the vulnerabilities and imperfections in all of us - disabled or 'typical' we all have them. It also leaves you hopeful, that beneath those flaws, there is a natural good in all of us, just as well.
Evan Grey (Evan Sneider) has Down syndrome. He lives and works with his
mom Celeste (Amanda Plummer). Their boss isn't happy with his work.
He's in love with single mom Candy (Shannon Woodward). She struggles to
get money from her violent possessive baby-daddy Russ (Jackson
Rathbone). She's involved with Kenny which drives jealous Russ crazy.
Celeste dies and relatives give Evan some money to buy food. Instead,
he gives it to Candy and wants her to be his girlfriend.
This is not the normal uplifting Down syndrome movie. Evan Sneider does a great job. There are a lot of awkward motivations. It's very troubling to watch Evan being manipulated. Candy is pushed to make compromises. I applaud trying to make something complex with a mentally handicap character but this is an uncomfortable movie. Combining sexuality and the mentally handicap is a high risk proposition in a movie.
Please don't waste anymore of our time with this drab. It's apparent that the actors or crew members are posting reviews. That or they're emailing friends and begging them to post a review. I wish I could say something good about this movie but I can't. I'm glad it's over is about that only good thing I can say. My girlfriend and I read about this "project" and thought we would spend our Sunday night at the Tornoto Film Festival seeing something heartwarming and genuine. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The writing was awful, most of the acting was forced and there were too many holes in the plot to keep track of. I know I'm supposed to like it but no one else in the audience seemed to like it either. After the movie, I heard at least three or four groups of people laughing about what a waste of time it was. Luckily we saw several other great films at the festival that made it worth while. The festival should have given this film a much later time slot so less people would have wasted their time. My girlfriend works in the industry and she wanted to leave 20 minutes into the movie. Sorry guys the movie doesn't work. Excuse any typos - I didn't want to waste anymore time on this movie than I already have.
I went to this movie with a group of 6 friends and none of us liked it. We tried to like it but we just couldn't. It was over acted and not well written. The main character, Evan, was interesting but you could tell he was be coached off screen. The rest of the cast was tolerable but I don't think Oscar will be calling any of them anytime soon. I actually can't understand why the movie was made. Other than some has beens and soon to be has beens, the storyline has been covered. Amanda Plummer was actually the only bright spot in the movie. She was honest and played the part she was given. If the writing is bad it's really not the actors fault. If you have to see it, wait till it gets to RedBox next month and ask a friend to chip in for the buck.
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