Coming upon a film like Very Good Girls, one is inclined to immediately distrust the title. Not just “Good” Girls, but “VERY Good” Girls. Who are they kidding, right? Titles like that are usually drenched in thick irony and contradiction.
We saw Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, unafraid to put her body on display while suppressing questionable moral decisions as a lost little girl. Dakota Fanning is all grown up now, singing “Cherry Bomb” and ready to take on adult roles. Surely she can’t be all that good, right? The talented duo do participate in some poor behavior in screenwriter Naomi Foner’s directorial debut. Nothing rises above the level of an after school special, though, making this a disappointment in about every conceivable way.
Lilly (Fanning) and Gerry (Olsen) are the bestest of friends. In a tease to get up the hopes of those looking for extreme irony from the title, the pair go streaking across a public beach in the opening scene. That is more goofy than rebellious though, despite Gerry’s more outgoing personality potentially being a bad peer influence on her shier, more structured friend. During their last summer together before college they do agree to enact the American Pie pact of losing their virginity before the next stage of their life. Lucky for them they run into hunky photographer and part-time dessert seller David (Boyd Holbrook) on the way home.
Gerry is intrigued. Lilly thinks he’s a dope. Guess which one he likes and who will be holding a secret with her all summer?
There is very little to surprise one about the course of Very Good Girls. Practically right from the get-go the blueprint is superimposed over every action and the film proceeds to go on auto-pilot from there without any panache to the storytelling or its characters. Audiences could take more interest in creating a betting pool as to how and when the film’s primary deception is unmasked. This is getting well ahead of the story which has to track Fanning’s Lilly from the sensitive flower she is named after to sneaking in boys through windows to shower with.
Her behavior is spurred on by the other sneaking around in her home as she catches her dad (Clark Gregg) making out with a patient in the first ten minutes. The tug-o-war that develops between Lilly and her mother (Ellen Barkin) is easily the most dramatically frustrating of the whole affair. In one scene she is angrily pitching mom to bring dad home and the next has her lashing out at dad to stay away. All that’s missing is Jimmy Durante singing “Did You Ever Have the Feeling…”
The most hellbound sin that is in any way associated with the film is not lying or having sex before marriage, but wasting such a promising cast. On one side of parental guidance you have the separated Barkin and Gregg and, on the other, Gerry’s folks are represented by Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore. This pair have so little screen time that its easier to focus on just why they signed on in the first place. Dreyfuss may have negotiated his few scenes by being allowed to make rants against the government. Unless serving food has become Moore’s passion, we can only imagine that her work was significantly left on the cutting floor. As for Peter Sarsgaard, he has played his share of bad guys and creepy antagonists, but to see him merely as the creepy older boss trying to make some overtime with Dakota Fanning is merely depressing and a waste of his talents.
Very Good Girls does not test your moral constitution nor offend any fibers or raise any hairs on your neck; it is just so spectacularly bland to have an extreme opinion in the positive or the negative. Fanning and Olsen are fine but each have been better. Holbrook is so non-descript he wouldn’t qualify for a guest spot on SNL‘s The Californians.
There are no surprises and no insights into youth sexuality, behavior or friendship. To open with a pair of high school graduates streaking and end with make-up frolicking through the home sprinklers, something in that stripped down midsection needs to justify that happiness or the implications of its reductive view of young women. Since her praise for 1988’s Running on Empty, Foner’s screenplays for Losing Isaiah and Bee Season have been messy, unfocused pieces that were likely forgotten in your mind until their names just popped up here. Very Good Girls will almost certainly suffer the same fate.