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While unloading a rental truck at their new apartment, Leah (Morgan Saylor) and Katie (India Menuez) are in sight of a trio of street thugs who watch as the girls, in their tiny shorts and cropped tops carry everything upstairs. One of the boys is a low-level drug dealer named Blue (Brian Marc). He’s handsome, coy, and most of all, dangerous looking. Leah is instantly draw to him, and it’s not long after when the two are having sex.
Meanwhile, she gets an internship at a hip magazine before beginning her sophomore year in college, learning the ropes as such, and gets the attention of the boss (Justin Bartha), a slippery, cocaine-addicted sleaze who wants to use for sex. By circumstance, she connects the two men and several others at a party where Blue finds he can sell his coke for a much higher price. Things look up and the lifestyle becomes a kind of fantasy for Leah, awash in a world of unprotected sex, illegal drugs, and carnal parties that feel consequence-free. Of course, it’s not. Blue’s been in trouble twice before and when he gets busted right in front of her on the street, he faces a third strike and a long sentence. It’s traumatizing and forces her to make a few real-life choices that themselves bear terrible trauma.
Written and directed by Elizabeth Wood, based in part on some experience of her own life, White Girl is a gritty, sometimes uncompromising film that revels in its excesses as nearly every scene features drugs or sex or both at the same time as Leah desperately tries to work two worlds in order to raise money selling Blue’s secret stash to get him out. Wood paints a dark and often disturbing picture of a girl in a spiral, addicted to just about anything that can distract her, from sex to drugs to the high that just being in it gives her.
Leah is never more than what she starts at, a troubled girl that seemed only in need of a little push. We don’t really get to know her motivations, she is defined only by her actions, almost all of which see her languishing in depravity. Scene after scene sees her and the rest of the cast in coke-filled euphoria or semi-lucid states between the next bender. Leah has no control skills and is hopelessly ill-equipped to understand the complexities of how to help Blue, trying to use the last of his cocaine to make money. She is clearly the film’s namesake, with her scraggly, dyed bleach blonde hair and ivory skin, though the drug itself is called the same. And like that drug, she is used and abused, her value serving only one purpose.
The cast is strong with veteran television actor Chris Noth having a small role as a beleaguered lawyer who Leah desperately appeals to for help. He recognizes her position and lack of maturity and like all creatures in the hungry jungle this story exists in, may have once had aspirations for greatness and fairness, but now, hunkered down in a dank room stacked with unsettled case files, he is as much a predator as he is a savior. It’s a good performance serving as just about he only “adult” in the story.
The film is graphic, with numerous sexual encounters that are never arousing, save for the first time with Blue and Leah, an erotic and passionate moment on a rooftop. In fact, Blue is the most compelling character in the story, with Marc such a force, his presence alone is enough to make this film worth watching. That’s not to say Saylor isn’t good. She has a few emotional moments that strike well, and despite the limited arch, gives a fearless performance considering everything her character endures.
This is a dreary, depressing experience, by design, and if you’re looking for hope or inspiration, you should seek it elsewhere. The final image is noteworthy, giving great context to the real tragedy of the time and place Leah has found herself, forcing us to think not just about her, but every person sitting beside us. What is their story? Clearly a very personal project, perhaps a little cathartic in ways for Wood, White Girl ultimately may limit its audience, but is still well worth a try.
Director: Elizabeth Wood
Writer: Elizabeth Wood
Stars: Morgan Saylor, Brian 'Sene' Marc, Justin Bartha