”Boy meets girl, boy loses girl,” we say, summarizing the plots of the world’s greatest love stories. Yet the actual experience of meeting and of losing can’t be expressed in the language of ”then this happened and then that.” All the Real Girls is a revelation in its ability to capture how love really feels — which is to say, like a blur, like an assemblage, like a collage of revisited moments, mixed-up feelings, and disjointed details that defy linear narrative.
This fresh, stirring movie by David Gordon Green, about a couple of young people temporarily head over heels about each other, defies linear narrative, and everybody else’s idea of narrative, too. It’s thrillingly original, lyrical, and wise, and the filmmaker conveys the mutable intensity of young love with the authoritative originality of an important filmmaker. I don’t mean to put too much on the shoulders of the 27-year-old Green, who came up with the story for his second feature (”George Washington” was his haunting 2000 debut) with his art-school pal Paul Schneider, who also stars as the young man who meets, loves, and loses. But I do mean to point out that all the real filmmakers are artists who can conjure responses we couldn’t have anticipated from pictures, words, and music that were never put together in quite the same, fine way before.
Green works by layering exquisitely thin, nearly transparent layers of image and sound to build a sense of place and mood. Scene A doesn’t snap into Scene B like a jigsaw-puzzle piece, but Scenes A through G somehow shimmer together with the depth of truth. It’s the accretion that interests this filmmaker, and the way whole lives — indeed, a whole community — can be drawn with minimal strokes of dialogue and action.
We don’t, for example, even witness Paul meeting Noel, played with tenderly skewed enchantment by Zooey Deschanel. When the film opens, the two are just…standing somewhere in their unidentified North Carolina town, already plugged into each other’s sockets. Paul is a local bad boy who has seduced and abandoned half the town’s girls, to the affectionate exasperation of his mother (Patricia Clarkson), who works as a clown in the local hospital’s pediatric ward. Noel, recently home from boarding school, is the kid sister of Paul’s best friend (Shea Whigham). When real love overtakes him, Paul is knocked stupid and shy by it. (Moved to dance a jig of happiness, he first asks his girl to turn around so she won’t see his goofiness.) And as love becomes more complicated — Noel is young, she’s just learning about her own powers — Paul is nearly flattened by all he feels.
Like ”George Washington,” ”All the Real Girls” is gorgeous but modest about it, and it’s been hand-built by the same team. Tim Orr’s cinematography is ravishing. The music of Michael Linnen and David Wingo sings to the heart. If calling the movie poetic isn’t a selling point, then forget I ever said it. Just call this beauty real.