TFF ‘12: The Girl review

t’s a pretty remarkable feat for a movie to be not very good but still entirely watchable. The opening minutes of “The Girl,” an overwrought and familiar drama, had me preparing myself for a much worse movie than it ended up being so maybe it’s just a case of lowered expectations. Abbie Cornish stars as Ashley, a single mother and screwup in Austin TX who is not allowed to visit her 5 year old son for an earlier incident involving drinking and driving with him in the backseat. She’s working off her debt to society at a big box store but as we’re told in the opening scene, has “a bad attitude” and won’t be getting a promotion. She’s not an alcoholic per se but likes drinking and in her situation - living in a trailer park, shitty job, can’t see her son - probably deserves a drink. She’s visited one night by her father (Will Patton), also a screwup, who says he’s been doing well these days and offers to take her out for a night on the town just South of the Mexico border. We soon learn that daddy’s doing well because he’s been transporting Mexican immigrants across the border for $500 a pop in his truck.

Ashely scolds him for this initially but quickly decides to make some money of her own by offering a family passage across the border. But complications ensue and soon she’s stranded with a young girl while her parents have disappeared. Now Ashley must learn to be a mother through this surrogate daughter of sorts as she searches for her family. Cornish is an actress I like a lot (she’s fantastic in Jane Campion’s “Bright Star”) but she’s not especially good here. A Southern accent is ill-suited to the Australian-born actress and some of the on-the-nose dialogue she’s forced to deliver doesn’t help make her performance any more convincing. Still, she’s very watchable and you ease into her performance as the film goes along. (Though it’s a bit brutal in the opening scenes.) I’d also like to propose a moratorium on the “not-ready-to-be-a-good-parent learning to love surrogate child” narrative. It’s effective even when it’s not particularly well done.