Spend Valentine’s Day with Girlfriend at SF Indie Fest 2012
Posted on February 14, 2012 by Chris Nelson
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.
If you’re looking for something to do tonight, SF Indie’s got a wonderful gem showing tonight. The film is Girlfriend, by writer/director Justin Lerner, and it screens at the SF Roxie Theater at 9:30pm tonight.
Now, given that it is SF Indie, you know that Girlfriend is probably not your usual Valentine’s Day Movie (Love Object was one of our favorite previous picks). In fact, it’s one that works on multiple levels, from bittersweet comedy to psychological study, to relationship drama.
At first blush, Girlfriend is the tale of a young man, Evan (Evan Sneider), suffering from Down Syndrome, who ends up getting his wish for a romantic relationship with the prettiest girl in town — and if your significant other doesn’t care for things off-the-beaten-path, that’s probably the synopsis you should use.
In actuality it’s about a lonely man-child who finds himself lost in the world of adults after his single mother/caretaker passes away. Left to his own devices, and armed with his new-found inheritance, he sets about winning the object of his desire: Candy (Shannon Woodward), a former classmate and now single mother with dire financial problems. And as luck would have it, things don’t go quite as smoothly as Evan would expect, despite his extensive boot-camp of Soap Opera television and tips and tricks gleaned from interactions with and observances of Candy’s abusive ex boyfriend (Jackson Rathbone).
This setup probably sounds like it could be quite awful, but director Justin Lerner never strays into Larry Clark territory. The son of two developmental Psychologists, Lerner instead infuses his narrative with a heartfelt concern and optimism for Evan’s fate. And thankfully, Lerner balances every character’s opportunism with conscience, creating a world that is more melancholic than tragic, grounded in the everyday. The effect is threefold: you find yourself worried about Evan, you are appalled at his bad decisions, but you are nonetheless rooting for him every step of the way.
Girlfriend owes its quality in large part to its talented cast. Lead, Evan Sneider, a real-life sufferer of Down Syndrome, does an amazing job with his lines, and never ever emits a false note. Similarly, Shannon Woodward, who plays Candy, infuses her character with just the right amounts of helplessness and good-grace to make her situation feel real. Jackson Rathbone (of Twilight fame) also does an excellent job as the bully ex. It’s a big change from the last film we saw him in (Clive Barker’s Dread), but I was definitely impressed. And lastly, Amanda Plummer delivers a great, but short performance as Evan’s mom. You definitely feel her love for her son, and she establishes it such that when her character finally passes away, you definitely notice her absence.
All in all, Kris and I were thoroughly impressed by Girlfriend. I now have to seek out some of Justin Lerner’s previous works***. This is great stuff.
Find out more about Girlfriend, and purchase tickets for tonight’s show at SF Indie’s website.
***Update. It turns out you can watch Justin Lerner’s previous short films on his website.