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By Tim Merrill | February 15, 2003

Ah, the dreaded Sophomore Slump. David Gordon Green, who debuted with the lavishly acclaimed “George Washington” – and is soon to adapt a comic novel of some repute called “A Confederacy of Dunces” – has stumbled a bit with his latest. “All the Real Girls” aspires to a backwoods North Carolina Woody Allen quality that it often comes close to achieving. But sadly it’s just never quite funny, touching or insightful enough.
In your average Woody Allen film, leading man Paul (Paul Schneider) might be a hopeless young romantic. Here, he’s just a hopelessly inarticulate local playa who finally finds true love in the fine form of his best friend’s little sister, Noel, played by the charmingly offbeat Zooey Deschanel, in her first lead role. The problem is, Paul doesn’t know what to do with true love, or his life in general. One might say he lacks a certain focus, a direction. In essence, his dilemma is whether to give in and consummate his relationship with Noel, or respectfully hold back. Noel’s sister, the volatile Tip (Shea Wingham), strongly prefers the latter, complicating Paul’s life even further.
Green’s off-kilter story rhythms work while the relationship between Paul and Noel is burgeoning, but it certainly doesn’t mesh with the more conventional conflicts that arise toward the conclusion. What is at first intriguingly elliptical becomes grating, not least because the story seems to have no clue when to wrap itself up. Rather than tying together into a satisfying whole, the fragments seem to fly off in any number of directions, and a sweet, simple tale of young love dissolves into a mishmash.
Green has a naturalist’s eye (well served by the golden sun-dappled images of DP Tim Orr), and his actors – particularly Patricia Clarkson as Paul’s beleaguered mother and Danny McBride as Bust-A*s, the embodiment of comic relief – come through with all types of quirky, aching humanity. “All the Real Girls” has a big heart and doesn’t lack for a sense of people and place; a sense of pace is what’s missing.

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