Directed by Justin Lerner. Starring Evan Sneider, Shannon Woodward, Jackson Rathbone, Amanda Plummer, Jerad Anderson Club, Light House, Dublin, 95 min
The main selling point of Justin Lerner’s route-one American indie is the fine performance from young Evan Sneider. When an actor with Down syndrome turns up in a film, the temptation is to make all sorts of patronising allowances. But Mr Sneider really does the business here.
Cast adrift in a depressed New England town, Evan (the protagonist shares the actor’s forename) gets across a rainbow of unflinchingly expressed emotions: contentment, fury, misery, love. It’s impossible not to feel protective towards the fellow.
It’s equally difficult to avoid defensive feelings for the film itself. Girfriend is so nearly a roaring success. The actors surrounding Sneider are equally committed. Amanda Plummer offers a characteristically sideways cameo as the hero’s eccentric, caring mother. Shannon Woodward works hard as the attractive, flawed girl he fancies.
Sadly, Girlfriend is so soaked in different classes of cliché that it ultimately proves hard to take seriously. Shot in wintery shades, always at home to the growling hick, the film offers us a crap-kicking town from central casting. Woodward is the good-time girl who just needs the love
of a decent man. Jackson Rathbone plays the borderline thug who leads her astray. When the plot finds its MacGuffin – an unexpected inheritance – we are propelled deep into the territory of Victorian melodrama.
There are more than a few reminders of Lennie Abrahamson’s Garage: a misused man with developmental problems; a morally distracted young woman; a remote town on the edge of nowhere. Garage, however, worked much harder at devising original adventures for its well fleshed-out characters.
By way of contrast, though responsible and humane, Girlfriend never quite finds its own voice.