By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, September 16, at the AMC Van Ness 14 in San Francisco.
The 1990s nostalgia trend in pop culture continues with this energetic throwback to Larry Clark’s Kids, Gregg Araki’s early work, and other benchmarks of casually shocking 1990s independent cinema. Morgan Saylor (Brody’s daughter from Homeland) gives a ferocious and fearless performance as Leah, an Oklahoma-bred college student who dives nose-first into the hedonistic opportunities and pitfalls of NYC life. She barely even pauses long enough to acknowledge when she’s been ripped off or raped.
After moving to an off-campus apartment in a particularly rough neighborhood, Leah quickly becomes involved with the charismatic but volatile Blue (Brian “Sene” Marc), a small-time corner drug dealer whose Scarface ambitions are awakened by this heedless and psychotically privileged party girl. Leah also works an internship for a rich, sleazy, exploitative pervert played by Justin Bartha, who apparently should play rich, sleazy, exploitative perverts.
White Girl is reportedly based on the real-life experiences of first-time writer-director Elizabeth Wood, and while you feel some compassion for Leah’s utter lack of self-control, as well as some grudging respect for the insane lengths she goes to get the guilty-as-hell Blue out of jail, she certainly isn’t softened into someone sympathetic or likable. It’s all a little empty and pro forma, but Saylor is an absolute powderkeg – she’s so intense and unpredictable, it feels as though Leah is capable of anything, which is thrilling and terrifying all at once.