Title: The Girl
Director: David Riker
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Will Patton, Maritza Santiago Hernandez
A well-meaning but rather inert borderland drama about a single Texas mother who, while in the process of trying to reunite with her son, becomes entangled with a young would-be illegal immigrant, “The Girl” is a decent showcase for the Australian-born Abbie Cornish, which explains its limited, awards-qualifying run in advance of its wider, March 2013 theatrical release. Still, the film is too limited in scope and predictable to transcend its social-issue movie-of-the-week roots as a tear-jerker designed to play on the feelings of particularly maternal independent film fans.
Ashley (Cornish) is poor and not particularly in a good spot, having temporarily lost custody of her 5-year-old boy due to a drunk driving arrest. She works as a cashier, but has more resentment than money. When her trucker father, Tommy (Will Patton), drifts back into her life, she’s astonished to learn he earns extra money ferrying Mexicans looking for work across the border in his truck. After she’s separately approached by a shady guy (a “coyote enabler”?), Ashley decides to take the leap and call an audible; she pitches her services to a group of would-be immigrants and soon has a plan to have them cross the Rio Grande and have her pick them up on the other side. When things go wrong, Ashley feels torn about how to best help little Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), who gets separated from her mother. As an important hearing date regarding her own son looms, Ashley is forced to confront some tough moral decisions.
Written and directed by David Riker (“La Cuidad”), “The Girl” recalls, in its surliness, almost claustrophobic vibe, and focus on marginalized and damaged female protagonists, Michelle Monaghan’s turn in “Trucker” and Charlize Theron’s performance in Guillermo Arriaga’s multi-generational drama “The Burning Plains.” Its execution is fine, even though its modest means dictate that the river crossing and other important dramatic bits are told rather than seen. But the film is also written to frame its predicament, as a sort of social-academic exercise. It is programmatic, D following C following B following A — all predictably and without much connection to real world consequences, whether they have to do with law enforcement or Ashley’s personal life. There is no outside dramatic force, in other words, only the pressure of the theoretical. Cornish gives a fine turn (with a fairly convincing accent to boot), but it’s not quite enough to boost “The Girl” to a full recommendation.
Written by: Brent Simon