The trailers for White Girl proudly trumpet this blurb: “The most explosive portrait of NYC youth since Kids.” But, what was (and is) shocking about Kids is that it was never meant to be shocking. Larry Clark just commissioned a kid — Harmony Korine — to write a movie about kids and what he got was a reflection of the mainstream’s worst fears about youth culture. It was unvarnished and raw, but it feels so earnest that even the most abhorrent moments don’t feel trumped up.
White Girl is similarly drawn from life as writer-director Elizabeth Wood used some autobiographical elements for her picture about a hard-partying college girl who hooks up with the cute drug dealer from the corner, and finds her reality thrown into turmoil when he is arrested and she feels she must help him someway, somehow. It seems that, in spite of — or perhaps because of — her own very personal lens, Wood chooses to favor the party scene and the drug use, rather than more closely examining the questions of consent and exploitation that many of the film’s scenarios raise.
The sex scenes are often graphic, yes, but these are also the moments in which we feel most removed. We feel for Leah, but we aren’t often given vision into her feelings. In some ways, this choice feels illustrative of what those encounters must feel like for someone who is faded or high, removed from the moment by a substance. And there’s something to that, but when it’s carried over the lion’s share of the film, everything becomes muted and fuzzy.
White Girl is uneven, and for a film with so many moments that seem to aim for a gasping reaction, it’s a bit flat. But there are some moments of real beauty. Leah and Blue’s first encounter feels at once intimidate, daring and hopelessly optimistic. In the final frame, we’re left to ponder how much we don’t know about the people sitting next to us, bow this story could belong to any of us. And that’s lovely too. All the questions it raises feel like the only kind of closure we could have here, and so we get the most dynamic moment of the film.