Summer, New York City. A college girl falls hard for a guy she just met. After a night of partying goes wrong, she goes to wild extremes to get him back.
Director: Elizabeth Wood
Writer: Elizabeth Wood
Stars: Morgan Saylor, Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, Justin Bartha
“White Girl” poses a troubling but unspoken question: To what degree has hard partying with sex and drugs become entrenched as a hazardous rite of passage for bored millennials? Leah (Morgan Saylor), the doll-faced blond protagonist of this movie, written and directed by Elizabeth Wood, is an ebullient New York City college student with an appetite for marijuana, cocaine and casual sex.
When she and her equally wild best friend Katie (India Salvor Menuez) move to a seedy apartment in Queens, she thinks nothing of running downstairs and asking the boys hanging out in front of the building where she can find some pot. They follow her upstairs, and it isn’t long before Leah is having sex against a wall with Blue (Brian Marc, also a rapper known as Sene), a Puerto Rican drug dealer and the best-looking member of the group.
The movie, which observes the world from Leah’s entitled perspective, is the latest in a continuing line of shockers (including “Kids” and “Spring Breakers”), whose depictions of greedy drug-taking and promiscuity are inescapably titillating. Had “White Girl” been directed by a man, it would probably be accused of misogyny. But Ms. Wood has said that it is semi-autobiographical. When shown last winter at the Sundance Film Festival, “White Girl” received some obligatory tut-tutting from nervous male critics.
The movie has what seems to be a heart, although you can’t be sure. Leah entertains no expectations of a serious relationship with Blue. Yet when he is arrested for drug dealing, she goes to considerable lengths to help him try to avoid prison. She consults a sleazy, high-powered lawyer (Chris Noth), and in a state of semiconsciousness endures what appears to be a rape.
For the 21-year-old Ms. Saylor (Dana Brody on “Homeland”), Leah is a career-defining role that she embraces with a ferocious energy. With her platinum-dyed hair, she strongly resembles the young Britney Spears. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at an unidentified college, Leah, who envisions a career “in media,” works as an unpaid intern at a magazine where her boss, Kelly (Justin Bartha), offers her cocaine. With hardly a second thought, she rewards him with oral sex.
“White Girl” dwells completely in the moment. There’s no mention of Leah’s family. In scenes of Leah and Katie at dance clubs, hand-held cameras become participants in orgiastic frenzies. During one such scene, Leah sheds her top, screams with abandon and later collapses from exhaustion amid a bathroom threesome.
The movie is keenly aware of its characters’ class differences. Because Leah is privileged, she can do as she pleases at a dance club where sharp-eyed guards roughly expel grungy-looking suspected drug dealers. At the end of an evening of dissipation, she looks much the worse for wear, but never gets to the point of calling it quits. Her body can take the abuse. Even at her lowest moments, she exhibits an unfailing bravado. Her chirpy motto in times of crisis: “I can figure it out.”
Her attempt to “figure it out” includes unloading the drugs at the club and making a quick $24,000. That’s more than enough to pay the lawyer representing Blue, who faces decades behind bars (it is his third arrest), and Blue’s dealer for the drugs he left behind when he was taken away by the police.
We’re all familiar with the term contact high, but not with its antithesis. Because it is so believable, “White Girl” is a contact bummer that’s hard to shake.
-STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY TIMES