Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Gillian Flynn's 'Dark Places' Starring Charlize Theron, Chloë Moretz, And Nicholas Hoult Watch: First Trailer For Gillian Flynn's 'Dark Places' Starring Charlize Theron, Chloë Moretz, And Nicholas Hoult Review: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie,' Starring Die Antwoord, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver And Hugh Jackman Review: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie,' Starring Die Antwoord, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver And Hugh Jackman 'Chappie' Actor Admits There Was "Tension" On Set With Die Antwoord's Ninja; Check Out Two New Featurettes 'Chappie' Actor Admits There Was "Tension" On Set With Die Antwoord's Ninja; Check Out Two New Featurettes Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Actor Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Actor Contenders 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Review: Abbie Cornish Shines, But The Questionable 'The Girl' Remains Ethically Dubious

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist December 14, 2012 at 10:05AM

Well-told, well-shot and featuring a strong, but restrained and internalized performance from actress Abbie Cornish, director David Riker's "The Girl" is a mannered and in-the-pocket indie drama that might be a total subdued winner if it weren't for its dubious political ideologies, an irony considering the film's DNA is clearly built on humanist tendencies. While the Australian Cornish does have mild issues with sticking the landing on her Texas accent, it's her meatiest role since the deeply underrated "Bright Star" and lesser-seen, but no less valuable indies like "Somersault" and "Candy" (the latter featuring her going toe-to-toe with Heath Ledger and giving as good as she got) and she makes the most of it. 
2
Cornish The Girl

Well-told, well-shot and featuring a strong, but restrained and internalized performance from actress Abbie Cornish, director David Riker's "The Girl" is a mannered and in-the-pocket indie drama that might be a total subdued winner if it weren't for its dubious political ideologies, an irony considering the film's DNA is clearly built on humanist tendencies. While the Australian Cornish does have mild issues with sticking the landing on her Texas accent, it's her meatiest role since the deeply underrated "Bright Star" and lesser-seen, but no less valuable indies like "Somersault" and "Candy" (the latter featuring her going toe-to-toe with Heath Ledger and giving as good as she got) and she makes the most of it. 

She leads the pic as the emotionally distraught and financially destitute Ashley (played quietly with an internal smoldering), and as the narrative unfolds through the mundane, we learn that her introverted angst and suffering stems from having lost custody of her son Georgie (Riker wisely almost always using clever show-don't-tell narrative devices to further the story). Trying to win him back, Ashley begins to grow desperate when she loses her local Austin megastore grocery job and her options start to run out. Exacerbating issues is a surprise visit from Ashley's estranged and wayward truck driving father Tommy (played by an always dependable Will Patton). While her monetary issues and an upcoming custody court date are a worrisome thorn, at the behest of her persuasive dad Ashley begrudgingly agrees to take a trip just south of the border where he lives in Mexico. Yet what is supposed to be a celebratory outing (Tommy has come into some money) gives Ashley some ill-conceived ideas. Tommy, she learns, is making $500 a head by taking illegal aliens across the border into the United States. Growing increasingly despondent about what to do about her son (Child Services making unexpected visits to her trailer don't help) and deeply in need of money on the eve of this court date, Ashley eventually concocts her own ill-advised attempt to bring illegals across.

The Girl, Abbie Cornish

The poorly thought out plan is a harrowing experience and results in a tragedy, which leaves Ashley having to look after Rosa, a young Mexican girl (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), and this is where the story truly begins. What transpires is a journey through Mexico to find Rosa's relatives and what follows are the difficult, but unforeseen rewards of friendship and bonding between the two females. However, the picture seems far more concerned with Ashley's redemption as a bad mother, confronting her alcoholic past (the reason she lost her son), having her accept her own faults and looking towards a brighter future all at the cost of this young Mexican girl who may have helped her become a better person along the way, but is now orphaned for her troubles. It is Ashley's story after all, but one can't help notice this poor young girl is just a cipher in the narrative to affect positive change in its heroine and this is disquieting.

An Independent Spirit and Gotham Award winnner for his neo-realist film "La Ciudad," Riker's lens is largely thoughtful and considered and he employs that same sense of tasteful choices, for instance, not falling into the temptation to use dialogue when none is needed and intelligently cutting sequences early where information need not be repeated. Musically, the score by Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum is used sparingly and its only in key sequences when it begins to swell. By and large, "The Girl" is an unsentimental portrait of class, immigration and tragic consequences and is better off by being so. 

However, these already troubling ethical and political issues seem to spill over in the film's last act in favor of Ashley's story. Children's social services are demonized by simply trying to do their job -- who is this American girl with a motherless Mexican child after all? -- and the final sequences raises several disturbing issues and questions.

For one, the largely sober and realistic picture veers dangerously close to treacly manipulation in its final moments, which feels like a disappointing concession after many genuinely doleful and affecting sequences prior. And its final hopeful minutes betray the fact that Ashley -- who we are now to presume is finally ready to be a fit mother to her own child -- has essentially ruined Rosa's life with her egregious irresponsibility and selfish decisions. If there's a moral lesson to be learned in the conclusion of "The Girl," it remains vague and unclear if the true consequences of her act have sunk in; a vague final semi-smile on her face alluding to a happy ending is disturbing when in fact, for Rosa, there's none to be found. Even more disconcerting is the hard-to-read Ashley who seems more stressed than guilty throughout most of the picture. Yes, she's selfish and becomes less so as the narrative builds, but it's hard to tell where the contrite feelings begin and the sense of duty ends.

Are we to empathize with Ashley for seemingly getting her life on track at the expense of this little girl? Are we to value that family less because they're not white and now off-screen as Ashley drives back to the U.S.? While "The Girl" doesn't necessarily suggest these sentiments, its unsatisfying ending doesn't refute these ideas either. Anyone who finds this conclusion a humanistic or socially reprehensible dealbreaker can hardly be faulted. Before these questionable issues come to a head and then falter in the finale, there is a lot of value in "The Girl." It's a thoughtful and well-intentioned picture that can be objective and also quietly heartbreaking. But the unsettling fact remains, in the end Ashley drives home with the intention of reclaiming her son while Rosa's situation is left behind. Rosa's grandma, who will now take care of the young girl, may have let Ashley off the moral hook ("the river took my daughter, not you"), but we the audience, are not so convinced. [B-]

This is a reprint of our review from the Tribeca Film Festival.

This article is related to: The Girl, Abbie Cornish, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates