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TORONTO — A sweet ‘n’ sassy period comedy with a Juno sensibility and the soul of a Little Miss Sunshine, the hard-to-resist Dirty Girl announces the official arrival of Juno Temple, who, as the titular high school student with the bad reputation, establishes herself as the real deal.
Directed and written by newcomer Abe Syliva, whose background in musical theater is readily apparent given how many of the sequences contain elements of song and/or dance, the film emerged as a genuine crowd-pleaser at its Toronto premiere, prompting Harvey Weinstein to shell out a reported $3 million for U.S. acquisition in addition to major overseas territories.
Given the right campaign, there’s no reason why Dirty Girl shouldn’t clean up in the specialty market.
The daughter of British filmmaker Julien Temple, Juno has stood out with smaller roles in Atonement, Notes on a Scandal and St. Trinians, but here she nimbly conveys all the many facets of Danielle, the tart-talking, self-described “school whore” circa 1987.
Her bad reputation lands her in a remedial class where she strikes up an initially strained relationship with the chubby, introverted, not-so-closeted Clarke (Jeremy Dozier, in an impressive debut).
But the odd couple end up having more in common than one would think, what with Clarke’s parents (Dwight Yoakam and a wonderful Mary Steenburgen) having an uneasy time accepting him for who is and Danielle’s Barbie Doll mom (an equally terrific Milla Jovovich) about to blend families with a pompous Mormon (William H. Macy).
Borrowing, or more like stealing, his dad’s beloved red Cadillac, Clarke and Danielle embark on a road trip from Oklahoma to California in search of her birth father and, hopefully, redemption.
Although the journey ultimately veers off in some overtly maudlin directions, writer-director Syliva, who incorporates several autobiographical elements in the story, ultimately brings everything to an agreeable destination.
In addition to winning turns from all of the above, there’s also sensitive work by Tim McGraw as Danielle’s reticent father and Nicholas D’Agosto (Heroes) as a genial hitchhiker.
Period production values abound, especially with a totally ’80s soundtrack informed by the Melissa Manchester songbook (she also contributes some fresh tunes) but also crammed with nuggets by fellow ’80s divas Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Sheena Easton and Belinda Carlisle, whose “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” is given an amusing interpretation courtesy of motel Magic Fingers.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (The Weinstein Co.)
Production: Ideal Partners, Hart/Lunsford Pictures, Cherry Sky Films, the Salt Co., Paris Films
Cast: Juno Temple, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Jeremy Dozier
Director-screenwriter: Abe Sylvia
Executive producers: Ed Hart, Joan Huang, Robert Bevan, Samantha Horley, Cyril Megret, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler
Producers: Rob Paris, Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Charles Pugliese
Director of photography: Steve Gainer
Production designer: Alan Muraoka
Costume designer: Mary Claire Hannan
Editor: Jonathan Lucas
No rating, 99 minutes
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