'Dirty Girl' an uneven story

Juno Temple stars in "Dirty Girl" (Supplied photo)

Juno Temple stars in "Dirty Girl" (Supplied photo)

JANE STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:31 PM ET

Everybody knew or knows a "dirty girl," at their high school, don't they?

But screenwriter-director Abe Sylvia doesn't take the obvious route -- far from it -- in his first feature, Dirty Girl, a funny, poignant if slightly uneven coming-of-age story.

Sylvia's written portrayal of promiscuous platforms-and-hot pants wearing pistol Danielle (British actress Juno Temple of Atonement fame), the so-called Dirty Girl of her school in late-'80s era Norman, Oklahoma, is part Lolita, part Traci Lords.

There is something sexy but vulnerable beating within her lithe frame.

After her bad behaviour lands Danielle in a family planning class with another outcast -- an overweight closeted boy named Clarke (newcomer Jeremy Dozier) who likes to dance and sing to heart-on-her-sleeve singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester -- the two slowly bond over their respective family dysfunction.

In Danielle's case, her mom (Milla Jovovich) is marrying a Mormon (William. H. Macy) even though she slept with his son while Clarke's emerging homosexuality isn't going over well with his violent father (Dwight Yoakam) despite a more sympathetic mother (Mary Steenburgen).

Clarke's room is plastered with posters of such '80s rock chicks as Pat Benatar and Joan Jett and Manchester actually makes a cameo in the film's final moments playing the piano but you have to really look for her.


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Too bad for Clarke's dad there's also gay porn on his son's ceiling.

When push comes to shove, Danielle and Clarke -- and their fake baby (a flour sack) from their parenting class -- set out on a road trip in Clarke's dad's beloved Caddy to find Danielle's real father (Tim McGraw) in Fresno, California.

Along the way they meet a sexy male stripper named Joel (Nicholas D'Agosto, who delivers such a great impromptu striptease at a drive-in to The Outfield's Your Love that you wish there was more of this charismatic actor in the movie) and form a real friendship.

They also get to listen to great '80s songs like Bow Wow Wow's I Want Candy and Belinda Carlisle's Heaven is a Place on Earth

Dirty Girl is loosely based on the experiences of Sylvia, who went on to become a Broadway dancer, although he never knew -- in his case -- "Dirty, Dirty, Debbie" from his high school.

Thankfully, his imagining of that friendship really pays off for his lead actors, who are both watchable in their roles, particularly Temple basically runs away with the movie as first-timer Dozier tries to keep up, even if Sylvia often goes a bit too far.

For example, the flour sack changes expressions from happy, sad, surprised, to even angry, depending on what's happening to Danielle and Clarke on their road trip.

And when a dusty biker bar turns into a gay one it seems more like fantasy than reality.

As for the impressive roster of adult actors, Steenburgen shines the brightest, always managing, as she often does in her movies, to find the maternal sweetness and warmth within her character, while Macy is severely under-used.

Sylvia, however, nails the '80s-era music combining female driven rock/pop with country classics (even if Tanya Tucker's 1972 hit Delta Dawn makes an appearance alongside late-'90s entrants like Le Tigre's Deceptacon), costumes and hairstyles.

If you don't want to go out and buy the soundtrack, check your vital signs.


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