Sundance Review: Very Good Girls


Dakota Fanning is now old enough to play the role of the older sister and it freaks me out. Witnessing a child actor, one much younger than me, mature into a young adult is a monumental event in life. It feels like a sign post, displaying the passage of time (much more than my 21st birthday ever felt). Well, this article isn’t about the devastating impact of witnessing a child actor growing up. Nor is it about the slightly unnerving feeling of finding a girl attractive that you can’t see without unseeing her performances from younger years. 

This is an article about Very Good Girls. This is not an article about Dakota Fanning, though she is one of the best parts of it. OK, now let’s talk about Dakota Fanning.

Very Good Girls
Director: Naomi Foner
Rating: NR
Country: USA
Release Date: January 22, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

Right now, I’m struggling with describing Fanning’s luscious bum as a white piece of chocolate or an effervescent bar of soap that smells like vanilla. [I am writing this review on an airplane, free of wifi; free of IMDB; free of the ability to look up Fanning’s age and make sure I am not suggesting I rub her butt on my face, if that butt belongs to a girl younger than 18, indeed.] I will cherish this bum, because it’s one of the few things that will keep most man-bums in the seat, during the duration of Very Good Girls: a film deserving of many adjectives but most deserving of GIRLY.

Very Good Girls is a slice of teen girl wish fulfillment, nostalgic for ’90s young adult fiction and televised dramas. It’s a film with a plot so familiar, cliche, and simplistic that I can’t tell if it’s a parody, dumb, a botched attempt at deconstructing, or truly naieve. Two attractive, rich New York BFFs, Lily (Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), meet hot ice cream boy David that looks like a J. Crew model. A love triangle ensues. Naturally.

It’s the details that make Very Good Girls both endearing and laughably idealistic. Whatever the opposite of sexist and male gaze is, is whatever this film is. Ice cream guy has a way of appearing in the driveway, the doorway, or the windowsill at oppurtune moments for Lily. He’d be an unwanted stalker if he weren’t so gosh darn good looking. What else we know about him, other than he wants this girl, isn’t much. He’s an artist, a romantic, and committed: The girl doesn’t want more, so why should more be given to the audience?

There is a purity to Very Good Girls that makes all of this very endearing. Fanning and Olsen are fantastic in their roles. Expected of Olsen, less expected of Fanning who hasn’t had a starring role in some time. Lily — to add cliche to injury — witnesses her dad cheating on her mom. Seperation follows, leaving Lily to look after her two younger sisters, as her mom pours wine down her gullet. Gerry envies Lily’s life, not for the opulent house and lifestyle but for her family. Lily tells Gerry that “no one laughs” in her house. Gerry fires back, “No one shuts up here.” Normal, nice, fun-loving girls aren’t roles that stretch Fanning or Olsen’s acting muscles, but they are enjoyable to watch here.

Debut writer/director Naomi Foner uses this bare framework to show off her exceptional skill with the camera. Very Good Girls looks fantastic, creating intimacy between friends and lovers with frames that aren’t afraid to get up close and linger. Foner also has impeccable taste in music. Not only does she coax a great soundtrack out of Jenny Lewis, Foner uses J.K. & Co’s “Fly” — the best song heard by fewer than 100 people (but I guess not anymore).

It’s easy to make fun of Very Good Girls. It’s so optimistic, pure of heart, and simple. I dare to attribute those features as feminine, but there’s an angry mob shouting “misogynist” outside my door. But, what’s so wrong with feminine and simple anyway? Very Good Girls is a gorgeously shot teen girl fantasy that we don’t often get in this day and age. And, for the guys, you get to see Fanning’s bum. MORE THAN ONCE!!!