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All the Real Girls

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David Gordon Green follows up his impressive if awkward first feature, George Washington, with something similar yet somewhat better. Again the setting is a North Carolina mill town, the milieu mainly working-class, and the period contemporary only in the broadest sense. (Perhaps the surest sign we're in the present is the heroine's telling the hero not to smoke in her bedroom.) But this time the cast includes veteran actors as well as talented first-timers, and the plot is more focused: an offbeat love story between a 22-year-old ladies' man who's never left town (cowriter Paul Schneider) and an 18-year-old virgin and recent boarding-school graduate (Zooey Deschanel). (Other notable differences: while the characters in George Washington were racially mixed and mostly teenagers, here they're exclusively white and somewhat older.) This is a lyrical heartbreaker that skirts most love-story cliches and is brave enough to be as inconclusive as the characters. Deschanel, who's already appeared in such movies as The Good Girl, Mumford, and Almost Famous, is clearly a more seasoned actor than Schneider, which puts a subtle ironic twist on their inverse on-screen relationship, and the estimable Patricia Clarkson (Far From Heaven) gives a sharp performance as the hero's single mother. Green's poetic sensibility and Tim Orr's lush 'Scope cinematography give this drifting story a potent aftertaste. 108 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.

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