Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Director Report Card: Larry Clark (2018)

9. Marfa Girl 2

The modern age seems to be both the best and worst time to make independent films. On one hand, quality cameras have gotten so affordable. Online avenues makes releasing a movie easier than ever. At the same time, it's becoming increasingly difficult to put together budgets for movies and to actually get them seen, as the market is flooded. Yet, somehow, Larry Clark is still getting new movie's funded. (That his movies are made for almost nothing probably has something to do with that.) Yes, American independent cinema's most incorrigible pervert is still making movies, despite his sleazy obsession with teens seeming more politically incorrect in our modern age of sensitivity. Four years after “The Smell of Us,” Clark brings us “Marfa Girl 2.”

Larry Clark made the first “Marfa Girl” in 2012. The film was released independently through Clark's website. (A brief theatrical release would follow in 2015.) At the time, Clark talked about wanting to make a trilogy of movies following these characters in small town Texas. Due to its unique release strategy, “Marfa Girl” is probably the most obscure movie the director has ever made. That almost nobody saw the first one apparently did not discourage the filmmaker. Clark would film this little demanded sequel last year. It was officially released at the start of this month.

“Marfa Girl 2” seemingly picks up two years after the original, looking into the lives of the same characters. Disaffected teenager Adam is now 18. He has fathered two children with two separate women. Donna, mother of one of Adam's kids, picks up her ex-husband, Miguel, from prison before quickly leaving town. Adam lives with his mom and Inez, his girlfriend and mother of his other child. While Adam is happy to smoke pot and skateboard all day, he's pressured into getting a job. Meanwhile, the titular Marfa Girl is raising a child too. The problem is the kid is the son of Tom, the psychotic border patrol cop that raped her at the end of the first film. Every time she looks into the toddler's eyes, she sees the face of her rapist.

The original “Marfa Girl” stuck out in my mind as being more dream-like and relaxed than most of Clark's films. That's about all I remember about the movie too. The sequel doesn't forgive those unfamiliar with the first, as it dives right back into the same group of characters. However, certain things remain consistent throughout all of Clark's films. The director's obsession with sex and youthful people behaving badly is always present. As is almost expected by this point, the movie opens with shots of the protagonists laying in bed, the camera leering at their nude bodies. The sex lives of Adam and Miguel takes up most of the film, the run time filled with countless scenes of graphic, sweaty coupling. Clark makes sure to include plenty of full frontal nudity of both genders as well.

At his most excessive, Clark's films do not feature the most likable characters. “Marfa Girl” did a little better in that regard. Sadly, the director backtracks hard with the sequel. Adam has developed into a prick and a slacker. There are several long sequences of him arguing with Inez, the two screaming profanity at each other. The teenager of the last movie has grown into an obnoxious adult, his face now speckle with ugly acne and a wispy mustache. Instead of taking care of his damn kids, he'd rather skateboard, fuck, and hang around his house. There are other scenes of profane arguing in the film, Miguel casually hitting Donna when she annoys him and attempts to flee. This behavior does not endear the cast to the audience.

Usually, Clark's movies are about teens heading down paths of self-destruction, their excessive behavior destroying their sense of self and sometimes their lives. There's a lot of that behavior in “Marfa Girl 2,” of course. However, the film does seem to be about Adam slowly getting on the path towards maturity. At his mother's insistence, he gets a job as a bricklayer. He finds the work tedious and backbreaking but does it anyway. The boy faces the consequences of his actions throughout the film. After ignoring and mistreating Inez, she leaves him for Miguel. By the end, it seems this boy might finally be turning into a man.
Yet the most obvious consequence of everyone's actions – parenthood – often proves the hardest to accept. Adam more-or-less ignores his kids. We never seem him interacting with either of his sons throughout the film's brief runtime. It seems his mom, with her parrot usually perched on her shoulder, does most of the parenting. Donna abandons her offspring early in the movie and Miguel doesn't seem to have much time for the kid he had with the same woman earlier. At least Marfa Girl has a good excuse to feel ambivalent towards her child. Unlike the boy, we frequently see her interacting with the toddler. Which may just be an excuse for Clark to indulge in more scenes of the actress hanging around naked or semi-nude. But at least these scenes connect more with the theme of parenthood.

The first “Marfa Girl” was characterized by making its titular location as much of a character as any of the cast members. The sequel pulls back from this. There's only one sequence that really pays attention to the town, when Clark flashes over the neighborhood in fast-motion. Otherwise, his camera is focused on the nude bodies of the cast. In intimate scenes that are frequently shot with handheld cameras, we see the actors go about their days. Hanging around their homes and, of course, having lots of sweaty sex. This adds to the sense of gritty naturalism that has been Clark's trademark from his earliest movies. If nothing else, the aimless scenes of Adam wandering a train yard or Miguel playing guitar at a party give you an idea of what life in Marfa may be like.

As much as “Marfa Girl 2” is about maturity and creating a naturalistic sense of place, Larry Clark the Shockmeister just can't resist himself. Just as the first movie ended with a graphic rape and a murder, the sequel also concludes with two acts of shocking violence. The infanticide is totally unnecessary and comes off as the lame attempt to shock that it is. But at least it ties in with the rest of the film's story. The bloody cliffhanger that ends the movie, while it might tie into the themes of Adam facing the consequences of his action, really comes out of nowhere narratively. Having seen all of Clark's movies, I can tell when he's actually invested in something and when he's just trying to shock you. These moments are more empty provocations, ending an aimless but not awful movie on an especially sour note.

“Marfa Girl 2” is also really short. The film only runs seventy-five minutes. The first film ran close to two hours. That's because the story, with its conflict between Adam and Tom, had more meat on its bone. The sequel has to fill out its run time with mostly unrelated subplots. Miguel's subplots don't have much to do with the main story. Despite that, many scenes are devoted to him and his affairs. Never mind that Marfa Girl, the woman the movie is named after, is given even less to do. The first movie was arguably padded out with scenes of Adam's mom or his girlfriends. Yet those scenes at least characterized the town. The filler scenes in the sequel seem to exist mostly to expand the flimsy run time.

The first “Marfa Girl” was largely inspired just by Clark being captivated by the non-professional actors that he cast in the film. Most of these performers were brought back for this sequel. (Notably, the only one of the actors to have credits outside Clark's two films is Indigo Rael, who plays Donna and has appeared in about a dozen different things.) As per usual, how the performers look are more important to Clark than their acting abilities. Mercedes Maxwell, who plays Inez, remains a largely flat and catatonic performer. Adam Mediano squanders his natural charm by playing Adam as a whiny asshole for most of the movie. Drake Burnette, the Marfa Girl, obviously has some talent but is shackled by a script that isn't very interested in her character's inner life.

I'll give “Marfa Girl 2” this much: It has a better soundtrack than the first movie. The original was largely silent, with the little music that did appear being irritating chiptune. The sequel at least has more variety. Jonathan Velasquez, who previously appeared in Clark's “Wassup Rockers,” plays Miguel. He's also a talented musician. Acoustic guitar music and songs fills out the soundtrack of many scenes. While none of the songs are exactly memorable, at least they provide some of the slower scenes with an upbeat energy. Again, it adds to the homemade aesthetic that Clark has been seeking out for so long.

“Marfa Girl 2's” ending could be read as either a cliffhanger or a blunt conclusion, depending on whether or not Clark decides to continue the series. I don't think anyone, even people who sort of liked the first one like me, were exactly begging for this sequel. Since it got made anyway, it's entirely possible Clark might go ahead with a “Marfa Girl 3” eventually. As with “The Smell of Us,” “Marfa Girl 2” represents Clark spinning his wheels in his own excess, just going out and shooting things and weaving together a story because he enjoys it. I'm sort of glad there's still room for his perverted visions in this world but also wish he could muster up some urgency, some zest, instead of the same old shocks and dick shots. [Grade: C]

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