A friend of mine was told he would like this film based on his own fondness for the films of Andrea Arnold and Harmony Korine which set myself up to become interested on the spot. The moment he came out saying he wasn’t a fan, however, only made me all the more skeptical about why the recommendation was made. It was not long enough I decided to watch the film where I had failed to see a connection between the recommendations but also one where I was so repulsed by what I was witnessing. That’s only, however, a small testament in describing how truly terrible White Girl is, for it was all around an unpleasant experience.
If the title, “white girl,” was supposed to hint at a sympathy for a different political perspective of its protagonist, maybe there’s something all the more unpleasant and condescending about what has been left behind. The titular “white girl” is Leah, played by Morgan Saylor. She is a university student who, together with a few friends, gets involved with the drug scene after lower class Latino man come about. There’s an interesting idea for what is set to be presented but there’s a reason as to why none of it even conveys as properly as it wishes: it would come from the condescending and exploitative presentation to which it endeavours that ultimately shrouds the experience all the way through.
If I were to go behind what made White Girl such a condescending film in terms of its tone, I would be spending my entire day ranting about where the film is just giving off a wrong impression by basing itself upon fantasy rather than reality. I’m all for watching how artists perceive one portion of the world under their own lens but there’s a point to which an insistence can only get so aggravating it wants to force its perception of life upon oneself. That is where White Girl fails at gripping me, aside from how unsympathetic and annoying its lead character was, for she was never compelling enough and it was already bad enough the film wanted to exploit her pain in order to heighten the narrow worldview to which it is presenting.
I’ll give first-time filmmaker Elizabeth Wood credit where it is due, she intends on creating a very immersive style behind her direction which makes for something to keep one’s attention. The sad thing about the feeling of consequence in White Girl is how easily avoidable most of it is but the fact our point of focus is such a naive figure only forces us to move along. Ultimately, the film works around exploiting the pain which Leah is meant to endure and soon, scenes that are supposed to be shocking (i.e. a sex scene within the climax) offer no remote value within them. Yet because she is so unsympathetic it only adds to the ugliness of the worldview to which it is presenting to its viewers.
In order to go about with how condescending White Girl is, the lack of sympathy was not only running from its lead character but everyone else, from their actions and their mannerisms, was only a hint for the lead character to keep behaving the way she was in the most easily avoidable scenarios. Everyone is in the wrong, for Leah is so overly naive and while I’m not in denial that people of her sort exist, there was a ton more sympathy that could only make her a much more believable figure, but I was even more troubled when I looked upon how the world she inhabited was encouraging her to keep within such a lifestyle, thus leading only to the inconsequential and exploitative nature White Girl carried.
There’s a lot to White Girl that could easily have made for something compelling whether it goes from Elizabeth Wood’s first-time direction or Morgan Saylor’s performance. Such elements, unfortunately, are overshadowed by a condescending worldview which soon exploits tragedy in order to heighten itself. I’ll give such a film credit especially where it was due but soon enough only the very worst qualities have been exposed and thus something that was downright ugly and despicable had come about. I thought it could not possibly get any more loathsome but as events began unfolding, I was only left repulsed all the more.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via FilmRise.
Directed by Elizabeth Wood
Screenplay by Elizabeth Wood
Produced by Gabriel Nussbaum
Starring Morgan Saylor
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 88 minutes