The first thing we’re supposed to learn about Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) is that they are best friends – no, like, best friends, sisters, totally bonded, deeply close, passionate friends. This is a fine sentiment – really, one of the best – but it’s a hard one to grasp when Lilly and Gerry, the center of Naomi Foner’s Very Good Girls trashcan their years-long friendship because some dude (and, also, this dude? Of all the dudes? This one?) is temporarily sexually attractive to both girls.
Yes, it’s this story again. To be fair, Foner’s film does throw a few wrenches into this now-standard formula – namely that both girls are virgins looking for someone to change that before they head off to college, and that only one of the girls is aware that she’s involved in a love triangle – but it’s otherwise just another destructive addition to a genre of romance films that needs to go away, or at least be handled in a far more mature and compelling manner.
Foner’s film wastes no time introducing the girls (and the audience) to the man who will unravel the most important relationship in their lives, as Gerry all but runs the guy over while biking along the boardwalk with Lilly. As ice cream salesman/waiter/street artist/security guard/poetry-reading hipster, Boyd Holbrook reads as a cross between Ryan Gosling and Garrett Hedlund, though he’s a far less interesting romantic lead than either of those actors and he does scarce little to round out his very slimly written character. But while we (briefly) meet David within minutes of Very Good Girls kicking off, Foner’s film than spends considerable time constructing ways to put her characters together – David, a “street artist,” just so happens to see Lilly days after meeting the girls (again, briefly), and he attempts to charm her by posting pictures of her on the street where he spotted her (including one that features the text, “where do you live?”), basically crafting the most creepy come-on ever, all while Gerry tries to find him based on a matchbook she saw resting on his ice cream cart – and it’s all so convoluted and silly that you’ll wish that Lilly and Gerry could have just fixated on some dude they went to high school with, just for the sake of brevity.
Wasted time and needless plot points aside, Lilly eventually takes up with David, who charms her with traditional romantic gestures – poetry readings and motorcycle rides and hot sexual encounters in garages – all while she’s also hiding her new boytoy from Gerry and attempting to deal with some troubles at home (let’s just say that, as Lilly’s mom, Ellen Barkin is really trying to earn her harpy card back). Is that not enough for your teen angst? Fine, Peter Sarsgaard also pops up as Lilly’s lecherous boss, just to add still more trouble to this hot mess of teen problems. Meanwhile, Gerry is all but stalking David, showing up at his place of business, calling him obsessively, and worrying about all of it to a traitorous Lilly.
You can see the beats here already, can’t you? Something will happen to remind Lilly that she’s being terrible, Gerry will uncover the truth, David will do something creative like Sharpie things on Lilly’s back, and all of it will be so, so sad and so, so obvious. How obvious is Very Good Girls? So obvious that Lilly has a Jules et Jim poster hanging in her bedroom. So obvious that both Lilly and Gerry have different “breaks” from their fathers (played by Clark Gregg and Richard Dreyfuss, respectively) during the very same summer they spend so desperately chasing down another guy. So obvious that David asks Lilly to read him poetry (by Sylvia Plath, of all people!) before sticking his tongue down her throat. So obvious that you’ll see its conclusion coming from a mile away, and it won’t feel satisfying in the slightest (and, hell, it might make you want to stick your head in an oven, too).
The Upside: Fanning and Olsen both turn in fine work here, rising above basic material by way of their tried-and-true acting chops; Foner’s ability to write and lens “falling in love” scenes that actually feel like falling in love; a supporting cast that will please audiences.
The Downside: It’s yet another film that sacrifices deeply bonded female friendships to the sexual wiles of boring men. We get it – that’s the plot of the film – but that doesn’t make it forgivable, because it’s all so obvious and basic and boring and uninspired and convoluted and infuriating that it’s hard to mine for any sense of truth buried within in.
On the Side: The film is Foner’s directorial debut, but she has previously penned screenplays like Losing Isaiah, Bee Season, and Running on Empty.