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Confessions of an American Girl (January 10/05)

Much like Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy and Them, Confessions of an American Girl follows the exploits of a white-trash family - substituting quirkiness for actual plot. But where that movie had a certain amount of charm going for it, Confessions of an American Girl just doesn't work at all; the characters are obnoxious, the directorial style is bland, and the pacing is off (way off).

It goes without saying that there's not much of a story here, as the film essentially occurs entirely over the course of one afternoon. The Grubbs - mother Madge (Michelle Forbes), son Jay (Brad Renfro), and daughters Barbie (Alicia Witt) and Rena (Jena Malone) - are preparing for an annual jaunt to a local prison, where the family's patriarch is serving a pair of consecutive life sentences (he's played by Chris Mulkey). Though Rena seems to spend all of her free time trying to kill herself, she's looking forward to the trip - though she doesn't want her father to learn that she's pregnant.

Confessions of an American Girl contains a surprisingly adept cast, with rising star Malone delivering yet another impressive performance (despite the fact that she's essentially riffing on her now-patented tortured teenager persona). Renfro, playing exactly the sort of slow, dim-witted character he seems to have cornered the market on, doesn't fare quite as well and it's impossible not to wonder if the actor is even capable of hitting any other notes. Mulkey, Forbes and Witt are all effective, though it's Clifton Collins Jr. who injects some much-needed life into the film as a sinister inmate.

Scott Sandoe's screenplay doesn't do anybody any favors, emphasizing tired jokes over character development (ie Rena tries to overdose by chowing down on a bottle of children's chewable vitamins). As a result, the film feels more like an extended sitcom pilot than anything else; add in some canned laughter and Confessions of an American Girl would fit right in on Fox's schedule. But really, it's the vibe of unpleasantness running through the film that does the most damage; unless your idea of a good time is watching an episode of Cops, it's highly unlikely you'll find much here to embrace.

out of

About the DVD: Confessions of an American Girl arrives on DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment, and comes equipped with a letterboxed transfer. Extras are limited to bonus trailers for Saved!, Code 46, Lost Junction, The Ranch, Intermission, and Wicker Park.