Playing Catch-Up: White Girl (dir by Elizabeth Wood)


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Ever since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I’ve read the White Girl was the most “shocking” film of 2016.  You can take a look at the poster above and see that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, White Girl is “SHOCKING … AND SEXY AS HELL!”

Well, I finally got a chance to watch White Girl on Netflix and the only thing shocking about it is that so many (male) critics were apparently convinced that it was the most shocking movie ever made.  I certainly wouldn’t call it shocking.  (And considering that White Girl features two graphic rapes, I’d love to know why the critic thought “sexy as Hell” would be an appropriate description.)  A better description of White Girl would be “honest.”  Then again, considering the way that the movies usually present the experience of being young, female, and in the city, perhaps the fact that White Girl is an honest film is the most shocking thing of all.

Morgan Saylor plays Leah, a college student who, along with her friend, Katie (India Meneuz), moves into a New York apartment.  The apartment is located in a largely Spanish neighborhood, one that has yet to surrender to gentrification.  While Katie and Leah’s hipster friends are immediately suspicious of everyone else in the neighborhood, the Oklahoma-born Leah is far more adventurous (or perhaps reckless).  She approaches Blue (Brian Marc) on a street corner and asks him if he has any weed.

Blue has weed and a lot more.  He’s the neighborhood drug dealer and soon, he’s also Leah’s boyfriend.  When Leah isn’t getting high and having sex with Blue, she’s working as an intern at a magazine where, early on in the film, she’s sexually assaulted by her boss, Kelly (Justin Bartha, playing a predator who, for many, will seem disturbingly familiar).  Leah invites Blue to a party given by the magazine and Blue is able to make a lot of money selling cocaine to Leah’s wealthy co-workers.

For Blue, drugs are a business and he refuses to do hard drugs himself.  To Leah, it’s an adventure, one that she believes doesn’t have any real consequences.  Or, at least, that’s the way she sees it until Blue is arrested.  With Blue, a repeat offender, facing a life sentence, Leah manages to find a lawyer (Chris Noth, who will make you skin crawl) but she needs to raise the money to pay him.  Fortunately, Leah has a stash of cocaine that Blue was supposed to sell.  Blue tells Leah that she needs to return the cocaine to his dealer but instead, Leah decides to sell the cocaine herself.  Or, at the very least, she’s going to sell whatever cocaine she doesn’t end up snorting herself…

White Girl has been called shocking because of its open and nonjudgmental portrayal of both drugs and sex but, honestly, there’s nothing shocking about it.  It may be a generational thing but, to me, Leah’s story was a familiar one.  I’ve known a lot of Leahs and, personally, there were moments in White Girl that left me cringing just because I could relate to one of Leah’s naive notions or I could remember what it was like to feel like, no matter what I did, there would never be any consequences.  Leah may not always be a likable character but it’s not because she has sex or experiments with drugs.  Instead, it’s because she spends most of the film blissfully unaware of her own privilege.  Leah thinks that she understands the realities of Blue’s world but, as she learns by the end of the film, she’s really just a tourist.  And, unlike Blue and the rest of her neighbors, Leah can always leave whenever she wants.

So, White Girl was not a shocking film to me.  Instead, it was a very honest film.  It can currently be viewed on Netflix.

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One response to “Playing Catch-Up: White Girl (dir by Elizabeth Wood)

  1. I often wonder if WHITE GIRLS and movies of their ilk are funded by “respectable” midwestern families to show to their daughters to try and scare them into staying at home and not going to the big bad city.

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