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Very Good Girls Blu-ray Review

Very Good Girls (2014) movie poster Very Good Girls

Theatrical Release: July 25, 2014 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Naomi Foner

Cast: Dakota Fanning (Lilly Berger), Elizabeth Olsen (Gerry Field), Boyd Holbrook (David Avery), Ellen Barkin (Norma Berger), Clark Gregg (Edward Berger), Peter Sarsgaard (Fitzsimmons), Richard Dreyfuss (Danny Field), Demi Moore (Kate Field), Kiernan Shipka (Eleanor Berger), Clare Foley (Phoebe Berger), Owen Campbell (Karl Field)

Buy Very Good Girls from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Dakota Fanning has been doing a very good job of ensuring that she isn't forever known as a former child star. The Twilight Saga may have gotten laughably terrible,
but those popular movies kept Fanning employed and visible during her awkward teenage years. And that work seemingly led to more work in independent movies. With six upcoming projects on her IMDb page, Fanning is in no danger of having an awkward gap in her resume that is tough to overcome. Younger sister Elle may be getting the more glamorous jobs in films like Maleficent and Super 8, but the overall more accomplished Dakota is still someone you can expect to see plenty of for the foreseeable future.

Dakota's acting career stretches so far back (Uptown Girls, Sweet Home Alabama, I Am Sam), that it's almost tough to believe she could still be playing a teenager. And yet, that is what she does in Very Good Girls, appropriately enough because she was just 18 when this indie film first screened at Sundance 2013. Fanning plays Lilly Berger, a Yale-bound high school grad enjoying a Brooklyn summer with her best friend Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), a budding singer-songwriter-guitarist.

In "Very Good Girls", longtime best friends Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) and Lilly (Dakota Fanning) are divided by their shared interest in the same guy.

At Brighton Beach, the two girls, who have vowed to lose their virginities, simultaneously develop crushes on the same dreamy, angsty ice cream vendor (Boyd Holbrook). His name is David Avery and he has photography ambitions. He turns his black and white stills into street art and uses one duplicated candid to get Lilly's attention and express his interest in her. Awkward timing results in the introverted Lilly keeping her blossoming relationship with David a secret from Gerry, who expresses obvious romantic interest in the same blonde loner.

Meanwhile, Lilly also finds herself caught between her physician parents, after seeing her father (Clark Gregg) "with" a patient. Lilly directs anger at both her father and her mother (Ellen Barkin, a bit old for the role) as she sees them, while wanting them to reunite and restore order before she heads to college. Lilly wishes she could trade parents with Gerry, preferring the amiable company of those healthy-eating, liberal folks (Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore) whom Gerry refers to by first name.

Brighton Beach ice cream vendor and amateur photographer David Avery (Boyd Holbrook) becomes the object of both girls' affections. The marital problems of the Bergers (Ellen Barkin and Clark Gregg) further complicate Lilly's last summer before college.

Very Good Girls marks the directorial debut of its scribe, Naomi Foner. No novice to the business, the 68-year-old Foner began producing "The Electric Company" in the early 1970s.
Not long after that, she produced Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal. While they were still children and not yet actors, Foner started writing and producing a number of feature films. Her credits in those two fields include Running on Empty, A Dangerous Woman, and Losing Isaiah. Her last screenwriting effort prior to this was adapting 2005's Bee Season from Myla Goldberg's novel.

That considerable filmmaking experience explains why Foner seems perfectly comfortable in the director's chair. Her storytelling instincts are sharp and though she is 50 years older than her characters, she hasn't lost touch with her youth or with modern society. Her script tries very hard to create natural dialogue and frequently comes very close to pulling it off. These characters, both the young protagonists and their parents, are three-dimensional and believable. Our views of the parents are short but not too short to establish them as identifiable and real, undoubtedly drawn from life.

The film captures that final summer of adolescence quite authentically and, in a rarity for serious film, from teenaged girls' point of view. It's possible to consider this the anti-American Pie, but that would be overstating the girls trying to shed their V-cards angle, a pretty minor aspect of the film. (This is the kind of R-rated movie that takes pains to avoid nudity in anything but long-distance, even using body doubles and CGI in an opening scene of public skinny dipping. An earlier cut of the film was assigned a PG-13.) Very Good Girls is more interested in sensitivity, respect and exploration. Lilly's sexual awakening comes with guilt and complications deriving purely out of genuine circumstance.

The movie's biggest falter comes at its conclusion. The ending feels like kind of a false note, which is critical and unfortunate after the many true ones that have come before it. Nonetheless, Foner does an impressive job in her first time at the helm. She has assembled a good cast and puts some of them, like Dreyfuss, to strong use. Fanning is good in the lead, but Olsen, who has until now failed to impress, is even better, accurately conveying an unfiltered, slightly needy type who's not yet ready for adulthood. Holbrook, who appears to be playing younger than his 30+ years, does the best he can with his material, but his desires to see Europe and use of Sylvia Plath as foreplay are far from the best the film has to offer. (With the exception of Dreyfuss' part, Foner has limited success at writing realistic male characters.)

After a very limited single-week, late-July release in nine theaters, Very Good Girls hits DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Very Good Girls Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Very Good Girls seems to rely on a slightly washed up color palette by design. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 transfer is clean, though often lighter than you'd expect it to be (but not to the extreme of the above cover art) and not nearly as sharp or well-defined as bigger budgeted fare. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is good, keeping dialogue crisp and intelligible, while not making it fight over score or the few effects. For some reason, the English subtitles (which the menus call closed captions) are entirely in capital letters. No need to shout, girls!

Longtime screenwriter and Gyllenhaal mother Naomi Foner discusses making her directorial debut in an extended interview. The Very Good Girls theatrical trailer misattributes a Hollywood Reporter quote from an unfavorable review to Variety, another trade that trashed this film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Very Good Girls is joined by 54 minutes and 25 seconds worth of HD interviews of the cast and crew. Questions almost illegibly printed on screen are followed by the rambling answers

of writer-director Naomi Foner, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, and then Fanning and Olsen together. A good 10-minute featurette easily could have been made out of this near-hour of flab. Still, it's nice to get Foner's thoughts on female adolescence and friendship, these characters, sexuality, the cast, and the New York setting; Fanning's comments on the title, her age, and her collaborators; Olsen's reflections on her real-life friendship with Fanning, appreciation for her onscreen parents, and her hopes for the film; and the two young leads discussing the film, production, and crew in tandem (occasionally finishing each other's sentences).

The film's theatrical trailer (1:44, HD) is also kindly preserved.

The disc opens with trailers for I'll Follow You Down starring Haley Joel Osment, Cavemen, and And While We Were Here. Each is individually accessible from a Previews submenu and repeated automatically following Very Good Girls' trailer, which for some reason starts playing immediately after the featurette.

The menu animates the clouds at the top of screen, adapting the central swatch of the washed-out cover art, while the end credits version of Gerry's "Go Ahead" plays. Though bookmarking is not supported, the disc does resume unfinished playback of everything.

No inserts, slipcovers, or reverse artwork jazzes up the side-snapped keepcase, while the disc art belongs strictly to a bike-riding Elizabeth Olsen.

Her relationship with David a secret, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) is able to share a post-concert laugh with best friend Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Very Good Girls offers an authentic and interesting look at female adolescence from the perspective of two best friends. The ending feels a tad fake, but only because most of the rest of the movie keeps things so realistic and grounded. The Blu-ray release is fine, if slightly unremarkable, but the movie warrants a look for fans of the cast and those who might appreciate a fine, well-acted indie coming-of-age story.

Buy Very Good Girls from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Dakota Fanning: The Runaways Push Trapped | Elizabeth Olsen: Godzilla Red Lights Kill Your Darlings
Boyd Holbrook: Behind the Candelabra | Peter Sarsgaard: Lovelace Blue Jasmine An Education
Ellen Barkin: Down by Law | Clark Gregg: Labor Day Trust Me | Richard Dreyfuss: Jaws The Lightkeepers
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Reviewed September 21, 2014.



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