'Very Good Girls': And when they were bad . . .
Very Good Girls is a summer story, a coming-of-age story, the story of the deep friendship between two teenagers about to start college, determined to lose their virginity before they do so.
Thousands of novels, plays, and films have covered similar turf - anticipation, desire, fear, the transition from girlhood to womanhood - and Naomi Foner's gentle iteration isn't a life-changer. There are no revelations here.
But the film, set in a sort of real New York City (geographical anomalies abound), is heartfelt, and feels emotionally true. It also boasts a beautiful performance from Dakota Fanning, as the watchful, fiercely intelligent Lily, whose family life is freeze-dried and fracturing. (Clark Gregg and Ellen Barkin are her parents.) By contrast, Lily's best friend, the gregarious, guitar-strumming Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), lives in a noisy household of aging hippies (Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore play the parentals).
Very Good Girls begins on the boardwalk of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, where Lily and Gerry have gone for the day, and where they both fix their eyes on a guy selling ice cream from a cart. David (Boyd Holbrook - think Brad Pitt, circa Thelma and Louise) is a photographer, a budding artist. Gerry goes after him with determination. But it is Lily who really falls hard, and vice versa. She visits the loft where he lives; he climbs through her bathroom window. It's the only time Lily has ever kept a secret from Gerry. And it leads to all sorts of heartache.
With songs from Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, lines from Sylvia Plath, a Jules and Jim poster on the bedroom wall, and a supporting turn from Peter Sarsgaard (Lily's lecherous boss at the company where she has a summer job as a tour guide), Very Good Girls has a breezy yet bittersweet, vaguely nostalgic vibe. Foner, a veteran screenwriter (Bee Season, Running on Empty, Losing Isaiah), makes her directing debut, aiming for something magical, and not quite getting there.
But she's close, and Fanning and Olsen do their utmost to make it real.
Very Good Girls *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Naomi Foner. With Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Demi Moore, Ellen Barkin, and Richard Dreyfuss. Distributed by Tribeca Film.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.