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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning are best friends in "Very Good Girls."
Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning are best friends in "Very Good Girls."

"Very Good Girls" lacks anything remotely refreshing

In the drama "Very Good Girls," the directorial debut of "Running on Empty" screenwriter Naomi Foner, there’s a nice little nod to Francois Truffaut’s "Jules and Jim" as the poster hangs on a bedroom wall. The 1962 classic concerns two good friends and the woman in which they both share affection for. This is only interesting because "Very Good Girls" has a plot in the same vein, as two college-bound best friends, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) both fall for a pretentious artist. Oh snap. 

Whereas "Jules and Jim," which was released over 50 years ago, still proves to be refreshing and a film of engaging beauty to this day, "Very Good Girls" lacks anything that’s remotely refreshingly new. Instead, and much to our misfortune, it’s a film that’s as bland and predictable as any that you’d see routinely play on the Lifetime channel, squeezed into the schedule of endless reruns of "The Golden Girls."

At the center of the film is, of course, the longtime, endearing friendship of Lilly and Gerry. When the film opens, the two do something rebellious, or so they think. With the encouragement of Gerry, a sort of new-age outgoing hippie, her and Lilly strip naked in public and run across Brighton Beach and rush into the water. Come to think of it, this isn’t really that rebellious, but whatever, they still have fun doing it.

Although they’re going to be heading to separate colleges at the end of the summer, they make it their goal to lose their virginity by the end of the summer, a plan that kicks into high gear after meeting David (Boyd Holbrook, obviously playing auto-pilot pretentiousness), a photographer/part-time ice cream vendor that probably could make any girl swoon over him when he’s not plastering his photos all over the town as if he’s an off-brand Bansky or building a sand structure of bacon and eggs on the beach. 

Lilly just assumes that David would be interested in Gerry, since she gets the most attention from the opposite sex. Much to Lilly’s surprise, though, she has captured David’s attention and this leads to a sexual relationship between them. Of course, she tries to keep the relationship a secret from Gerry because she knows how much Gerry is into him. Oh snap again. 

This sort of drama as depicted in such stale blandness in "Very Good Girls" is what only kids in high school would consider the least bit compelling. To me, it nearly put me to sleep faster than a few swigs of NyQuil. This is probably because it all just seems ridiculous.

Although the friendship and the chemistry between Fanning and Olsen is believable, despite their differences, their falling out stems from irrationality. Their friendship isn’t developed any deeper, although it should’ve, and Gerry’s affection for David isn’t nearly developed enough to make us really believe her pain when the big secret of Lilly and David "screwing around" is most predictably revealed in the third act.

There’s more drama that peaks its head, but never explored further to add to the film or take away from it, such as the moment when Lilly catches her dad (Agent Coulson, err, I mean Clark Gregg) making out with one of his patients and the constant-fighting between her and her mother (Ellen Barkin).

The friction between her and her mother is even more apparent when the father moves out of the house. Who knows if Lilly is confused about her own feelings, but it sure confused the heck out of me when one scene she’s practically begging her mother to let her father move back home and then the next scene she’s telling her father to stay away. Ugh.

Gregg and Barkin both get much more screen time than Gerry’s parents, portrayed by the unlikely pair of Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore. They have so little screen time that I question why they signed onto the film in the first place. They’re both free-spirited parents but aren’t given much more development beyond a subtle hint of quirk.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that the majority of their scenes were left on the cutting room floor because I wouldn’t imagine that they would sign onto a film that allowed them to do so little  other than spitting out a couple lines and, in Demi Moore’s case, offering a taste of gluten-free cooking. As for Peter Sarsgaard (did I not mention that he’s also in this film?), an actor who is usually impressive in every role he’s in (just ignore "The Green Lantern") is wasted in the role of Lilly’s touchy-feely boss. Oh well.

Fanning, who has been acting for more than ten years, continues to prove that she’s a talented young woman who just needs to find more interesting roles. It'd be a smart career move to follow the same footsteps as her sister Elle Fanning. Elizabeth Olsen, who we all should know by now is the most talented of the Olsen sisters, isn’t left deprived of like she was in "Godzilla," as she gives a somewhat lively performance as Gerry. It's too bad both characters were sort of annoying. 

The two actresses definitely have chemistry, and most importantly, this makes their on screen friendship a little believable. At least for a little while, their chemistry made me forget that they are obviously too old to be teenagers who are about to be graduating from high school. 

In the final scene, as Lilly is about to move away from home, Gerry comes to visit her and (spoiler alert) they predictably make up. Much like they did in the beginning of the film, they take off their clothes again before they rush through lawn sprinklers, enjoying their rekindled friendship and moving past David and the drama he has caused. It’s a moment that’s supposed to make the audience feel happy, but it only made me feel nauseated because I realized that I had wasted valuable time by watching a film that was so careless and lacking any depth, that it induced a yawn and a sluggish sigh.

"Very Good Girls" is currently playing on iTunes, VOD (check your local cable provider), and Amazon. 

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