In movies, where every hooker has a heart of gold, it figures the same would go for the high school slut. “Dirty Girl” stars Juno Temple as a teen jezebel who, with the help of the school closet-case, hits the road in search of her deadbeat dad, whose lifelong absence too-conveniently explains her man-crazy ways. What begins as a politically incorrect, “Mean Girls”-esque satire constantly shifts tone and focus as director Abe Sylvia pursues a style as jumbled as his narrative. Still, the scandalous-sounding title should lure curious college kids to this Weinstein Co. acquisition, especially on DVD.
If reports are true that the deal was made 20 minutes into the film’s Toronto premiere, it’s not clear the Weinsteins knew exactly what they were getting, since the opening is front-loaded with the sort of irreverent caricatures that have endeared auds to “Glee” — only to have things veer in wildly different directions. As dirty girl Danielle (Temple) might tell fellow Oklahomans about the weather, “If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes, and it’ll change” — and change it does, with subplots about Mormon in-laws, gay strippers and an abusive dad flaring up at odd intervals.
That first reel finds class punching-bag Clarke (newcomer Jeremy Dozier) trying to keep a low profile as Danielle turns heads, looking like she walked out of a heavy-metal video. With Danielle shagging jocks beneath the school bleachers and offering unsolicited tips during sex-ed class, the principal has no choice but to send the foul-mouthed nymphet to the remedial “Challengers” program (unfortunately named, considering the space shuttle explosion and the pic’s kitschy 1987 setting).
There, she and gay-cliche Clarke wind up as partners in a class assignment, and with nothing in common but their red-blooded lust for bad boys and disdain for their respective parents, they grudgingly become friends. Soon they’re spending all their time together, sharing secrets and saliva — to throw Clarke’s homophobic dad off the scent.
In a movie not starved for over-the-top characterizations, Sylvia assembles a colorful team to play the pair’s dysfunctional families. Dwight Yoakam and Mary Steenburgen are Clarke’s wonky folks, while as Danielle’s mom, Milla Jovovich tries her tacky best to show the apple doesn’t fall far from the trailer park. Danielle’s dad left long ago, but a stern Mormon (William H. Macy) is willing to take the job, adding tension to her already precarious home situation.
Leaving Oklahoma, the kids head west into the gooey center of Sylvia’s true agenda. It’s not much of a trip, the only real highlight being Clarke’s split decision to pick up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be a male stripper (“Rocket Science’s” Nicholas D’Agosto, handsome enough, but not exactly Vegas material).
It’s clear the film’s turned a corner when even a soft-core, gay-stripper subplot manages to yield enlightening feel-good revelations — and just wait’ll the duo get a chance to put those life lessons into practice a few miles down the road. How did a film that began with prison-rape jokes succeed in becoming an afterschool special? It’s in good company, of course, fitting right in with such teen satires as “Camp” and “Saved.”
For those not hip to its smug “out is in” mentality, “Dirty Girl’s” redeeming feature is its cast. Temple is vixen enough to carry the part, but manages to project a real wit burning beneath the layers of makeup and dumb-blonde shtick her character affects around others. At 21, she takes the jailbait edge off the role, and her accent is good enough that few would guess she’s from the U.K. As Clarke, Dozier is a real discovery, with a genuine, John Ritter-like charisma beneath those extra pounds. Watching him transform from creepy cafeteria lurker to charismatic star is one of the film’s great pleasures.
Music choices keep things feeling fabulous, even when they’re not, though two songs — Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” and the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” — repeat a few too many times on the soundtrack.