If you go off the premise for Very Good Girls, a film about two best friends, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elisabeth Olsen) who are driven apart by their mutual crushing over a cute boy, you’d have the film all figured out. To a degree. The plot isn’t anything new. Neither are any of the characters. We’ve seen it all before and that is something that can be said for a lot of movies.
While it is formulaic, drowned in cheesiness and rehashes common themes, character tropes and snippets of dialogue, that’s not the problem. Films can be both predictable and enjoyable without having to find inventive ways of retelling a story. It’s when you take inspiration from the Nicholas Sparks-esque storytelling of ‘more is better’ that it all goes wrong. So, so wrong.
And for Very Good Girls, it happens right at the start and never lets up.
The introduction of Lilly and Gerry is short, but pretty telling of how little the film cares about its leads. The girls are at their local beach. Gerry is egging on Lilly to join in her nakedness and jump into the sea, starkers. She does and they laugh about it. When they’re confronted by two lecherous guys who try to chat them up, Lilly pretends that they don’t speak English. And they laughed about that too.
The beach scene is the set-up to their whole friendship. That one scene. Because, moments after, they meet David (Boyd Holbrook), a bleach-blonde haired boy running an ice cream stall who looks like he’s stepped out of Home and Away and is about 10 years too old to be playing a teen (he is). This is the main problem with the film. This dude, right here.
After having an altercation with Gerry where Lilly steps in to defend her (of course the relationship doesn’t get off to a good start), David whips out his camera and starts snapping photos of Lilly as the two walk away. Just no. No. No. NO.
This scene is what brings Lilly and David together eventually. He sees her walking on the street a while later when in traffic, now knowing where she works. He sticks the same picture of her (black and white of course) outside lampposts and streetlights that she finds one day heading home. The last one she sees says ‘where do you live’ in scrawled, ballpoint pen handwriting.
What the hell? Is this a horror film? Have I been tricked into thinking it would be an hour and a half of Dakota Fanning and Elisabeth Olsen making friendship bracelets together and gossiping about how much boys suck while watching something dumb on YouTube and eating Ben and Jerry’s? Why can’t I have that film? – The feels I had at this point.
Although the romanticism of stalking had been around long before Twilight, Edward Cullen is the movements poster boy. It’s still a trend and he takes the number 1 creep top spot.
I think this is the time to clear up something. Women don’t want to be harassed. What David did throughout the film (and not just the one scene I mentioned) is harassment. I’m so bored of seeing this played out over and over again, particularly marketed in coming of age/teen films, and labelled as a definition of love. Why can’t we find something romantic to think is sweet and cute and loving, rather than ramping up the creep-factor? I know we all have different versions of what is romantic (and some of us hate that stuff/that word), but is it really this? Why does it always have to be some lame guy trying to ‘impress’ and show his ‘sensitive’ side by camping outside a girl’s house, or climbing through her window? You know, there are plenty of ways that guys have shown their affections for a girl without having to resort to stalker levels. It’s as if there is no other alternative – dudes either have to be assholes, or weirdos watching their crush sleeping.
That’s what characters like David do because those kinds of traits define them. He doesn’t have a personality. When he acts in a way that he feels like he has permission to turn up at someone’s house (Lilly, in this case) whenever it suits him, it’s brushed off as being romantic. Oh look he takes photos. Oh look, he lives an abandoned warehouse. Look how cool and arty and relatable he is. He’s got a deep and dark past. He’s so emotional, not like other guys. How could someone with perfectly structured cheekbones be anything but Prince Charming?
Lilly, like many other fictional women, go along with it because they’re written that way, the script doesn’t give them very much choice.
David would scream of a plot device if most of the film didn’t have him in it. He snagged two babes without even opening his mouth. And when he did speak, it was usually some philosophical bullshit, or something about how he was so ‘into’ his photography and ‘capturing life’.
Please. Gimme a break.
Lilly and Gerry deserved so much better. I could feel them trying to free themselves from the ties of the writing, but never quite getting there. I was even more annoyed when, the only way that Lilly would stop seeing David, was to shoe-in a death that took up the last third of the film. (Surely Lilly and Gerry’s friendship meant more than that? Couldn’t they have resolved their issues without someone dying?)
If this was a commentary on how such cool girls can end up with dumb/boring guys I’d be all for it. Imagine how awesome it would have been if Lilly and Gerry both gave a big fuck you to David at the end, and giggled over ice cream about how much of a pretentious loser he was? I would have loved that. “Remember that time he made the sandcastle breakfast?” “Hahaha, yeah what a douchebag.” It would have been a crazy twist and I am slightly tempted to watch the film again, in hope that that’s really the ending.
The biggest bummer of all, though? Dakota Fanning and Elisabeth Olsen had chemistry. If they didn’t have such awkwardly cringey lines to read, or a stone-faced boy to fawn over, this film could have been so much more.
Even though they had such a minuscule introduction as friends at the beginning of the film, there was something there. I believed that they were friends. When Gerry said super dumb – and quite problematic – things like, “doesn’t it feel good to have a man want your body?” (when Lilly was talking about her pervy boss) I still felt an element of friendship. That is really down to the super-babe powers of Dakota and Elisabeth, who were able to pull off as much as possible with so very little to work with. Their queenery should be celebrated alone for such an effort.
It’s just a shame we didn’t get the ice cream/sniggering about boys version of the film, huh?
Cherokee is a 20-something year old weirdo based in London. She has a morbid fascination with Justin Bieber, is a collector of toys and cute hats, and enjoys musing on popular culture, marathoning Dragon Ball Z, reading comics and napping. Her favourite films include Akira, the LOTR and original Star Wars trilogy, The Matrix, The Warriors, Blue Valentine, My Own Private Idaho and anything that has been touched by the gods she worships (David Lynch, Jean Cocteau and Satoshi Kon). You can find her atcherokeeseebalack.tumblr.comand tweeting @TheCherokeeElf