Danielle Edmonston (Juno Temple) is a promiscuous teen, or as folks used to say in 1987, a “dirty girl”. She is beautiful, charming, and intelligent, but only applies herself to dressing fashionably, hooking up, and being as cold as she can be to her single mother, Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovich). This behaviour only exacerbates when Sue-Ann starts dating a devout Mormon named Ray (William H. Macy), who has two kids of his own and insists that Danielle clean up her act in order to become a part of their new family. Danielle acts out to the point of being placed in the “challengers” class for problem teens at school (see: promiscuous, pregnant, drug-addicted, or gay). But Danielle isn’t the only one with problems. Her classmate, Clarke Walters (Jeremy Dozier), is in the challengers group as well, a result of his parents’ and therapist’s failure to “re-adjust” his sexual orientation. Danielle and Clarke have next to nothing in common, but in her quest to find her birth father and his desire to get as far away as he can from the abusive, homophobic father that he’d rather not know, the two embark on a cross-country journey for answers and self-discovery.
Dirty Girl is surprisingly beautiful in a plethora of ways. Firstly, Temple’s portrayal of the high school harlot with the heart of gold is moving without being corny. Then there’s her mother, who doesn’t slut-shame her, and dispels the many stereotypes of both teen moms and single mothers. Also surprising is Danielle’s school principal, whom (although misguided) only wants to see Danielle succeed, and doesn’t try to exploit or manipulate her reputation in order to abuse or take advantage of her as (sadly), many men in his position have. Though the movie could have easily gone down that road, it is not a film about a young woman being used and traumatized into becoming more respectable in order to be conditionally loved.
As for Clarke, he’s not just as accessory on Danielle’s adventure, and his character is incredibly well-developed and layered. We see Clarke’s interests, and how he truly blossoms in the very fist relationship of his life where he isn’t being judged. The audience also gets to witness the development of his relationships with his father, Joseph (Dwight Yoakam), and his mother, Peggy (Mary Steenburgen) respectively abusive and enabling who are both deeply ashamed of their gay son and are so intent on “fixing” him that neither of them even have a clear picture of who his really is.
Dirty Girl introduces us to four wildly different and intertwined families (which all have their problems and secrets) yet manages to stay centered on two young people’s need to find out who they are, and then live their lives, on their own terms. Sweet, warm, unexpectedly moving, and brimming with both a stellar late 80s wardrobe and soundtrack, Dirty Girl is this generation’s gender-inclusive, fun, gay, and non-lethal Thelma and Louise.
I give this one 4 stars.