I can’t tell you the amount of movies I see that are purely based on the premise that a character gets involved in a world that rejects them, beats them up, then throws them back into normalcy. White Girl is the first in an incredibly long time to use that trope to its advantage, injecting years upon years of unjust politics into the fold to create something truly compelling and visceral. It’s proof that writer-director Elizabeth Wood has a voice, and it really could give a shit less if it yells in your ear and gets in your space. That’s filmmaking at its scrappy best.
It’s summer in New York City; the heat is wretched; the smell of trash is worse. Leah (Morgan Saylor) just moved to the bright city to intern at a famous magazine and attend her sophomore year at school. Her ne’er do well attitude gets her in deep water when she starts surrounding herself with people that do less than agreeable things, like selling coke and such.
Wood makes it clear from the get-go that Leah’s journey is one from a screwed-up fairy tale. The score even furthers that outlook, but like any movie about tearing down the walls of normalcy, this ain’t no regular fairy tale—unless hooking up with your boss and nearly overdosing on cocaine multiple times counts as something Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty would do. What’s different here is that even though Leah is put through the ringer with her new choice of lifestyle, she makes it out unscathed, where if she was of a different race, that wouldn’t happen. The film’s title is White Girl, after all.
While Wood doesn’t completely paint the characters in Leah’s life as villainous, there’s an acidity to their personalities that is seemingly prodding her into being the worst person she can be. Whether it’s her asshole intern boss, Kelly (Justin Bartha, more hilarious than ever), or the dirty lawyer she hires to exonerate her new boyfriend from a bad drug bust, these people are put into her path and embraced when they should be shielded against. Leah’s downward spiral into a different life is denoted by her white privilege acting as a bubble to the outside world. No matter what happens, it’s because of her background that this girl can scrape by after everything that’s happened.
Morgan Saylor plays Leah incredibly well; her political unconsciousness is played with complete and utter grace. She’s also completely ingratiating as a person when it’s called upon. Brian Marc is also a standout as her new boyfriend, Blue. Everything Blue does is to try to deter the expectations put upon him by society, and Marc makes it compelling. Credit to Chris Noth and Justin Bartha, too, whose performances really need to be seen to be believed.
Having not known much about Wood’s career prior to White Girl, I didn’t really know what I was getting into; all I knew was that a few friends caught the film at Sundance and only spoke highly of it. The film itself is living proof that something so personal and angry can make for great filmmaking and entertainment. Because above all, Wood finds all of this stuff happening to Leah almost like a farce. So therefore, White Girl becomes even funnier when things are beefed up as visual comedy.
If you live in an area where White Girl is playing (see theaters here), I implore you to see one of the most special things released this year. It’s currently playing in NY and LA before expanding to some other territories. Provocation is its game and oh, man, is it hilarious and infuriating all at once.