Confessions of an American Girl
July 30, 2005
One of the hardest obstacles for independent films to overcome is distribution. Some films are relegated to obscurity by bad timing, lack of funds or, simply, they just aren’t that good. Such is the case with Confessions of an American Girl (2002), an uninspired look at a dysfunctional trailer park family.
Rena Grubb (Malone) is a troubled teen who lives in a trailer park with her mom (Forbes), her promiscuous sister (Witt) and her repressed gay brother (Renfro). Her father (Mulkey) is serving a life term in prison for murder. His absence in her life manifests itself in the form of an idealized image in her mind. She treasures the occasional postcards he sends her. To say this family has issues is an understatement. Rena misses her dad so much that she convinces her family to go to the prison’s annual picnic. To complicate matters, on the eve of picnic, Rena finds out that she’s pregnant from her deadbeat boyfriend (Von Detten) who subsequently rejects her. All of this emotional baggage is dumped on the father with predictably explosive results in what becomes a memorable afternoon for all involved.
Confessions of an American Girl is one of those independent films that gives its normally glamorous actors the chance to grunge themselves down with bad hair and bad clothes. Think of Monster (2003) but without the gripping story and intense performances. The pretentious title of this movie does not bode well and it chugs along at its own unengaging rhythm. There just isn’t anything all that interesting about these people.
It’s safe to say that the actors in this film have all done better work and are completely wasted in their respective roles. Brad Renfro has made a career of playing these kinds of characters (i.e. Bully) and is right at home with this material. Chris Mulkey is his usual gregarious self as the father but is too over-the-top at times. The biggest disappointment in the movie is Jena Malone. Normally, she has a good track record of the roles she chooses to play (i.e. Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Donnie Darko) but falls short with this one. It’s not entirely her fault as she doesn’t have much to work with: a predictable premise and a cardboard cut-out character.
Alison Anders’ Gas Good Lodging (1992) is a much better take on a troubled trailer park family with a young girl who idolizes her absent father as its focus. That film had a much better script with more fully realized characters and a touching sensitivity. American Girl wants to wallow in the pathetic nature of these characters and trots out the usual stereotypes: the slutty older sister, the tough mom holding everything together, the lay about brother and the abusive father. They are all caricatures that never rise above this level.
Jordan Brady’s movie doesn’t take enough chances to be considered edgy, like a Larry Clark film, and is too bleak to be considered a feel-good picture, like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). The film’s simply philosophy is summed up best by Rena’s credo, “Somebody gives you their love try not to shit on it, I guess.”