The most common LGBT duo in entertainment is the gay guy-straight girl relationship – Will and Grace, Carrie Bradshaw and Stanford Blatch, Kurt and Rachel, Liza Minnelli and most of her husbands – the list goes on and on.
The somewhat indie film, Dirty Girl, which has been making the festival rounds for more than year and officially opens on October 7, tells the story of yet another such pairing with funny and heartfelt results.
It’s the mid ’80s in Norman, Oklahoma. Danielle (Juno Temple) is the high school “dirty girl” whose unrepentant, scandalous ways have landed her in a remedial class full of other outcasts, including an overweight, awkward, obviously gay boy named Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), who hides under his sweatshirt hood like a turtle permanently retreated inside its shell.
He’s as introverted as she is extroverted and they’re both misfits. Danielle and Clarke are soon paired up and charged with caring for a sack of flour as part of a silly parenting lesson.
At first, the school slut and the friendless gay kid make for uneasy “parents” who share nothing in common except their flour baby, who they’ve named “Joan,” as in Jett or Crawford, depending on which one you ask. After a few days, it’s clear Danielle and Clarke do have one thing in common: miserable home lives ruled by clueless parents.
Clarke’s thickheaded dolt of a father (Dwight Yoakam) bristles at the idea that his son is gay and wants to ship him off to a military academy. His acquiescent mother, Peggy, (Mary Steenburgen) is too timid to intervene. Meanwhile, Danielle’s MILF-y mom, Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovich), is pushing her to obey the authority of the new man in her life, a self-righteous Mormon (William H. Macy).
Hatching a half-ass plan, Danielle and Clarke grab Joan, steal Clarke’s dad’s precious Cadillac and point it towards California: Danielle’s in search of her birth father and Clarke is going AWOL to avoid being shipped off to military school.
Out on the road, Danielle and Clarke’s friendship blossoms, as does their acceptance of themselves. After picking up a happy-go-lucky, hunky hitchhiker and parking for the night in an abandoned drive-in, Danielle walks away, hoping to give Clarke his first sexual encounter.
The odd couple’s road trip ends when Danielle finally finds Danny (Tim McGraw), her birth father, only to realize he has a family of his own and there’s no place for her in it. Meanwhile, Peggy and Sue-Ann have caught up to the kids, but all they can do is sit on the lawn outside Danny’s house, waiting for Danielle to emerge heartbroken and wiser.
The outstanding cast of Dirty Girl makes first-time writer-director Abe Syliva‘s partially autobiographical story a real winner. As Danielle, Juno Temple (Atonement, Notes on a Scandal) embodies all of character’s emotions and actions with both mature intuition and brazen, girlish impulse.
“Clarke” represents newcomer Jeremy Dozier’s first major role and he plays it with quiet dignity and genuine, shy sweetness that is not currently in vogue, nor possible for an isolated gay teen in Oklahoma, circa 1987.
The adults are played with quirky sensitivity, especially the wonderful Steenburgen and Jovovich, who sport winged, ’80s hair-dos. Country music star Tim McGraw will surprise you with his brief appearance as Danielle’s father and Maeve Quinlan (Spencer’s mom on South of Nowhere) conveys all the wary, threatened emotion his wife feels when Danielle shows up on their doorstep, in one scene, shot through a doorway. Amazing.
If you’re old enough to remember the 80s, you’ll appreciate this period comedy’s hairstyles, clothes and attitudes. And with a great soundtrack that features Pat Benatar, Melissa Manchester, Joan Jett, Teena Marie, Bow Wow Wow and Nu Shooz, people of all ages will be bouncing in their seats.
If it’s true that “nobody likes a Dirty Girl,” this film is surely the exception to the rule.
Watch the trailer here: