Only one of the 'Very Good Girls' is good

Matt Pais movie review: 'Very Good Girls'

'Very Good Girls'

'Very Good Girls' (July 22, 2014)

*1/2 (out of four)
 
The coming-of-age drama “Very Good Girls” actually starts out quite promisingly: Recent high school grads Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) pause at the beach, determining if one or both will follow through on a bet to streak down the sand and into the water. They strip, scream and sprint, only to be followed in by sleazy dudes who hit on them. Lilly pretends they don’t speak English. The girls laugh and brush off the advances. They’re too good for guys who approach like lions stalking an antelope.
 
Almost immediately afterwards, this directorial debut from “Bee Season” writer Naomi Foner (mom of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, hence the “VGG” presence of Maggie’s husband Peter Sarsgaard) gives up on savvy. The friends decide they must lose their virginity before college, something that’s nice to see explored by the fairer sex for a change. Except Gerry falls for David (Garrett Hedlund impersonator Boyd Holbrook), who of course prefers Lilly, who of course resists at first, but only at first. (Even though they have no chemistry at all.) While waiting around for the truth to come out, you can pretty much fill in the blanks from here.
 
“Very Good Girls” is the sort of narrow drama that acts as if there’s only one guy who lives in New York and treats all creative pursuits (poetry, photography, acoustic guitar) as sacred and instantly moving. The cast is also wildly overqualified. Ellen Barkin plays Lilly’s mom; Lilly's dad is Clark Gregg, playing a doctor reckless enough to get caught cheating in his own house while seeing a patient. Gerry’s parents are the puzzling couple of Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore, hired for name recognition, not the roles' demands. Having excelled before as an older guy lusting after a young woman, Sarsgaard (“An Education”) just had to show up, say hi to his mother-in-law and shrug off the whole thing.
 
Eighteen-year-olds do, in fact, do stupid things. This love triangle can and does happen. But the movie is a drab, obvious reminder of “Save the Date,” another disappointing, relationship-driven indie whose cast (Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie) sparked attention that the movie didn’t actually earn. At least “Very Good Girls” has music from Jenny Lewis and the almost always-strong Olsen, here a resonant emotional planet alone in the universe.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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