Netflix Recommendation Review: “White Girl”
The effectiveness a film has on it’s audience largely depends on the audience members’ ability to relate to the subject matter. If you have been in the military, odds are films like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Jarhead” stir up a strong emotional response. Likewise, if you have had the misfortune of going through a bad breakup, something like “Revolutionary Road” is going to make you sob like a baby (not speaking from experience or anything). My experience with Elizabeth Wood’s “White Girl” was a horrifying one. A lot of that was because of how well-directed and acted the movie was, lending a rare strength to Wood’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale. Most of it though came from the fact that I am the father of a 16 year old daughter who is determined to move to New York city after she graduates in two years.
Look… I am no stranger to the appeal that lies in the freedom of moving away from your parents, and living whatever lifestyle you desire. I also realize that the privilege and naivety afforded middle-class, white youth, even in a world of drug abuse and promiscuity create a certain feeling, in that youth, of invincibility. I certainly had my period of partying, wasting every dollar I had, and learning lessons the hard way. New York is a different animal though, and has the tendency to chew up and spit out youth that are in over their head. The raw feeling of realness in Wood’s film’s depiction of a young, white girl living a devil-may-care life in Queens hit me like a punch to the gut. As a viewer, I found that impressive. As a father, I found it nightmarish.
Leah (a wonderful Morgan Saylor) and her friend Katie (India Menuez) move into a sketchy apartment, in a not-so-nice area of Queens. Right away we see that these girls are ready for some debauchery, as they befriend the corner drug dealers and get the party started. Leah quickly falls for the leader of the group Blue (Brian Marc), and launches herself into his world of cocaine and alcohol abuse.
Leah seams to have no fear and an unlimited amount of confidence that stems largely from the white privilege bubble that encompasses her reality, but we soon see her attitude begin to tear her apart at the seems. Trading sex for drugs and getting involved with her sleazy coke-head boss (a fine performance by Justin Bartha), we already know how this is going to end for Leah. The journey there, though, is a jaw-dropping one as Leah’s body and mind begin to suffer the effects of constant drug use. When Blue is arrested on a third strike offense, Leah goes even further down the rabbit hole. A scary-as-all-hell drug lord (Adrian Martinez), a less than trustworthy lawyer, and a boatload of cash later, and Leah’s party comes to a crashing halt.
Even given the fact that everyone, with the exception of Blue, is using Leah for their own reasons, and in doing so show a complete disregard for the fact that she is disintegrating right in front of them, she is not a sympathetic character. She is spoiled, naive, and ignores every chance to correct her path with a defiance that is infuriating.
“White Girl” is not saying anything profoundly new. We have seen stories like this before. Wood does however focus in on how experience, and mistakes, form who we become for better or worse. It is that element in her story that sets “White Girl” apart, and declares Wood as a coming force to be reckoned with.