American Girl

on January 11, 2005 by Wade Major
Though the woebegone lives of white trailer trash Americana have lent themselves to some impressive filmic explorations in the past, "American Girl" will not join their ranks. Playing out like a prequel to a forthcoming Jerry Springer show, "American Girl" attempts to stir up a story in a pot filled with so many stereotypical lower-class maladies that it's impossible to take any one of them seriously.

Jena Malone stars as Rena Grubb, 15 and pregnant, scorned by other kids and barely able to tolerate life with her mother (Michelle Forbes), brother Jay (Brad Renfro) and stepsister Barbie (Alicia Witt) who all live together in...a trailer. Rena occasionally attempts suicide, but only half-heartedly, clinging to life through an idealized vision of her dad (Chris Mulkey), presently serving consecutive life terms for murder in the state penitentiary. And though the rest of the family doesn't exactly share Rena's love for pops, they consent to make the trip for the annual "Family Picnic Day" when prison inmates are permitted to visit and catch up with their loved ones, play games and just generally pretend that life is normal.

Naturally, the charade doesn't last and before long mom and dad are fighting again, Jay's in a liplock with an inmate (Clifton Collins, Jr.), guards are making passes at mom, Barbie and dad are getting it on in the conjugal visit trailer and Rena's taking a plastic fork to her wrists.

Then, as quickly as everything fell apart, it pulls together again, wrapping up as neatly and optimistically as though none of it had ever happened. It's the filmmakers' message moment, preaching the worn-out notion even the dregs of the downtrodden can do something with their lives if only they would make the choice to do so. But here, none of it rings true. The tactics and the filmmakers' manipulations are much too obvious. The Grubbs are too grubby, their misfortune too obviously contrived and the resolution much too convenient. Even Jerry Springer wouldn't buy into this lot. Starring Jena Malone, Brad Renfro, Alicia Witt, Michelle Forbes, Chris Mulkey and Clifton Collins Jr. Directed by Jordan Brady. Written by Scott Sandoe. Produced by Chad Snopek and Sheila Wurmser. A HIS-Tomorrow Films Production. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 87 min.

Tags: Jena Malone, Brad Renfro, Alicia Witt, Michelle Forbes, Chris Mulkey, Clifton Collins Jr, Directed by Jordan Brady, Written by Scott Sandoe, Produced by Chad Snopek, Sheila Wurmser, A HIS-Tomorrow Films Production, Drama, worn-out, woebegone, sterotypical, pregnant

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