Chad Faust’s Girl carries with it a certain amount of baggage because its leads are tabloid favorites Bella Thorne and Mickey Rourke. Although the two performers come from vastly different eras, they have a surprising amount in common. Both have fielded questions about their rumored plastic surgery, both have messed up publicly (Thorne more recently, given the Only Fans debacle in which she found herself embroiled), and both stand accused, throughout their lengthy careers, of actually being terrible actors. If nothing else, this movie confirms that both Thorne and Rourke can act when given the requisite material, and quite well at that.
Girl opens with a shot of Thorne looking ashen while riding a bus. With greasy hair and a slobby grey hoodie, the former Disney star is worlds away from the pneumatic bombshell we’re accustomed to seeing. In a wobbly southern accent, she informs her worried mother over the phone that she’s off to kill her father. He’s located in Golden, Texas, otherwise known as Kacey Musgraves country though looking at the desolate landscape in which Thorne’s unnamed lead (she’s credited only as “Girl”) rocks up it’s impossible to imagine Golden Hour, or indeed anything else even remotely hopeful, originating from such a place.
After rejecting a ride from Rourke’s passing do-gooder (smart girl), Thorne’s character happens upon a local dive bar where she’s instructed to use a phonebook in order to locate her father, leading to a hilarious “what’s a phonebook?” millennial moment. It’s then that we learn this intrepid traveller is carrying a mini-axe in her backpack (or is it a hatchet? Could this be a crossover? Is her father actually Victor Crowley?), and has no issue using it on skeevy local dudes. She hot-foots it to her father’s place only to discover somebody has beaten her to it and the old man is already dead. Soon, however, our girl has bigger fish to fry as Rourke’s dodgy sheriff is on her tail – he wants her daddy’s money, and he reckons she knows where it is.
It’s the kind of cat and mouse setup we’ve seen a million times before but what elevates Girl from the standard revenge fare is the power of Thorne’s completely unvarnished central performance. Given the level of celebrity she’s dealing with, it’s remarkable how well she inhabits a character that starts the movie off looking completely wrecked and only gets worse from there. She’s got an executive producer credit here, too, suggesting Girl was something of a passion project, but this is no Jennifer-Aniston-in-Cake “uglying” of a hot actress desperate to be taken seriously. Thorne doesn’t signpost how hard she’s working to escape the trappings of fame; her performance is natural, understated, and lived in. She’s dressed appropriately, too, in Docs and loose jeans, so that when Girl has to tussle, there’s no voyeurism to the exchanges whatsoever.
A Laundromat-set fight, in particular, is a standout; claustrophobic, contained, and well-choreographed. Writer-director Faust is an actor in his own right, and he gets into the fray with Thorne during this sequence as the sheriff’s right-hand man (credited as “Charmer”). Although Girl takes plenty of hits throughout the movie, the camera doesn’t linger on punches connecting to her face. There’s no pleasure to be taken from watching this young woman, who’s clearly already been through a lot in her short life, getting beaten up. Her grey hoodie, meanwhile, showcases blood splatters really well. This is a surprisingly detail-orientated film, even if the nature of its setting makes Girl feel rougher around the edges.
Consider Rourke’s well-appointed cowboy hat, which is like the icing on the cake of a well-baked southern law-man character like his. The once-legendary actor is leathery and weathered here, but surprisingly emotive, and he certainly looks (and sounds) the part. Rourke and Thorne work well together onscreen, each of their exchanges marinating in mutually-felt rage and disgust. He underestimates her, thinking this small young woman is no threat, but Girl has also been raised to think she’s invincible. While certainly not a damsel, her resourcefulness and scrappy attitude chafe once she’s up against some genuinely bad people.
Girl boasts a kind of seedy hopelessness similar to Jeremy Saulnier’s celebrated Blue Ruin, with its smudgy palette of dark browns, blues, and greys. It’s rare to see a woman in a role like this however, particularly a flawed one who is neither a superhero nor a victim – and one that’s been written by a man, no less (although it’s likely Thorne had a hand in bringing her Girl fully to fruition). It’s an odd choice of role for her, at least on paper, but there’s no arguing the former child star picks interesting projects. And, just to reiterate, she can really act when given the opportunity to do so. Girl ends on a surprisingly hopeful note, but its unabashed nihilism is what really leaves a mark. That, and the odd couple at its dark core, who have more in common than either would care to admit, both on and off-screen.
WICKED RATING: 8/10