Last of the Monster Kids

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Director Report Card: Larry Clark (2012)

7. Marfa Girl

Six years is a long hiatus for any filmmaker, especially since Larry Clark was popping movies out almost annually there for a while. After that much of a break, you’d expect a filmmaker to come back with something new, engaged with different subjects. But then again, this is Larry Clark we’re talking about. Yep, the guy is still at it, making movies about teenagers fucking. All of his work is a variation on a theme. “Marfa Girl” takes a few new turns even if it’s firmly rooted in the director’s obsessions.

The title is somewhat misleading. Yeah, the movie is set in Marfa, Texas, a place I’ve only ever heard of in relation to the Marfa lights spook-light phenomenon. That’s not the misleading part. Instead, the movie is actually about a boy, not a girl. Fifteen year old Adam, about to turn sixteen, is the protagonist. He skates, is in a band, occasionally enjoys a pot cigarette, is friends with a sexually liberated young mother, and is currently trying to get into his girlfriend’s pants. His mom rehabilitates parrots and is heavily involved in the local spiritualist and art scene. She’s friends with a twenty-something artist, the titular Marfa Girl, a young lady who believes in free love and equality of genders. Connecting all the story threads is Tom, a border patrol cop with sadomasochistic fantasies, misogynistic tendencies, and an unhealthy obsession with Adam and his mom.

“Marfa Girl” is edgier then “Wassup Rockers” but is still more gentle then the majority of the director’s films. As you’d expect, the film is loosely plotted, rolling from one encounter to another. The pacing is relaxed, instead of belabored. Once again, Clark has successfully put us into these kids’ lives. There’s not much of a score and what is there is odd, chiptune music. The film is named after its setting because Marfa is a character onto itself. It’s clear that the odd mixture of artists, spiritualists, disaffected kids, and border patrol cops that makes up the town was Clark’s main inspiration. After watching the film, you feel like you know what a day in the sleepy town must feel like.

As is expected with Clark by this point, among the teenage sex scenes, drugs, and violence, are genuinely touching or intriguing moments. An early moment, when Adam’s mom talks with a friend about loosing pets and reincarnation, really impressed me. Though the movie seems to implicitly suggest that the whole conversation is ridiculous, the emotion the moment sums up is true. Another stand-out moment is Adam and the Marfa Girl’s discussion about sexism and double standards. This leads to an encounter with two Mexican border patrol cops, starting a heated conversation. Clark continues to do intimate conversation well. The Girl has a revealing conversation with the mellower of the two cops, about his military history. An earlier date with another artist is charmingly awkward. Even the villainous Tom gets a revealing monologue near the end. Surprisingly, the sex scenes, only a few of which involve teenagers, have a gentle, romantic tone to them, making this, perhaps, Clark’s first legitimately erotic film.

Adam is your standard Clark protagonist: Obsessed with sex with no clear direction in life. His sweet relationship with his Mom makes him different though. Adam Mediano has a natural charisma as an actor and it’s not impossible to see him going on to a real acting career. Drake Burnette as the titular character does very well, being spunky and lovable. She can’t make all her heavy dialogue work but the actress is still likable. I didn’t care for what happens to her in the last act though. That felt unnecessary. I especially liked Indigo Rael as Adam’s friend Donna. She’s a complex character, a mother, a teen, and sexually open. Mary Farley is also strong as Adam’s mom.

Tom is the most fascinating character in the film. He’s a total creep. Aside from needlessly harassing Adam, he makes sexist remarks to a young waitress, tricks a fast food clerk into a date that transforms into a possible sexual assault, and shows Adam’s mom disturbing “blue waffle” pictures. For most of the film, he comes off as a thinly developed villain. His eventual acts of violence and sexual assault aren’t surprising. Frankly, his admittance of getting turned on by violence is awkwardly presented and Clark falling back on shock value and boners. However, the character’s monologue, were he discusses his past and his relationship with his father, are oddly powerful. Jeremy St. James actually gives a fantastic performance, making Tom an ugly creep but also, oddly easy to watch.

The movie concludes with violence. You could say this is lazy. However, the middle section of the movie, which includes a long drug trip in a school gym, drags on. The whole movie sets up this conflict between Adam and Tom. The ending is a fine pay-off to this. The resolution puts a nice emotional bow on the story.

So “Marfa Girl” is about half/half. It’s a lot of the same stuff you’d expect from the director by now. Its dreamy tone is sometimes entrancing, sometimes boring. The script is unbalanced between captivating character study and directionless location piece. I both like the town and have no desire to ever visit it. All things considered, it’s what I would expect from the director at this point in his career.

Clark released the movie independently as a streaming rental through his website, with no intention of ever releasing it to theaters or home video. He hopes to reach the kids this way. Maybe he will. I don’t know what young people will think out of "Marfa Girl." It won’t change detractors mind and it could potentially either surprise or bore Clark defenders. Despite it's issues, it's still the filmmaker's best work in years. [Grade: B-]

Clark might be busier now then ever before. He all ready has another film in development called "The Smell of Us," has hinted that the long-gestating "Savage Innocent" could shoot soon, and seems serious about developing "Marfa Girl" into a trilogy of films somehow. Internet distribution and streaming rental might be the filmmaker's salvation. Just by going on the titles, I think it's safe to assume this tiger isn't going to change its stripes any time soon. Larry Clark will continue to make movies about teenagers fucking until the day he dies or gets thrown in jail. He is cinema's most persistent dirty old man.

His movies aren't always great and are frequently not worth what they ask of the audience to put into them. Yet I can't help but like the guy, his indie spirit, his unwavering interest in specific subjects. Larry Clark might not be a great filmmaker but he is a true American original. You've got to give him that much.

1 comment:

Jsj said...

Thanx for your opinion. Portraying Tom was the most terrifying yet most healing time of my life