Turning slowly from gritty to pretty, Riker's drama boasts impressive perfs from Aussie thesp Abbie Cornish and talented non-pro Maritza Santiago Hernandez in the title role.

Though named for the pint-sized Mexican who’s orphaned in her family’s bid to cross the Rio Grande after dark, writer-director David Riker’s picturesque meller “The Girl” is actually more concerned with the spiritual redemption of Ashley (Abbie Cornish), a cash-poor south Texas femme whose incompetence as an immigrant-smuggling coyote results in said tragedy for the girl and some affordable lessons for herself. Turning slowly from gritty to pretty, Riker’s drama boasts impressive perfs from Aussie thesp Cornish and talented non-pro Maritza Santiago Hernandez in the title role, but auds interested in border-crossing issues will find the bilingual pic’s preferences suspect.

Too smoothly styled to register as realism, the well-shot pic opens with the stressed-out, clock-punching Ashley failing to negotiate a raise with her boss at a Wal-Mart-style superstore and unable to keep her cool in the company of the foster mom who has been put in charge of Georgie, her beloved young son. The sense that alcoholism has been an issue for Ashley becomes clearer when she meets her truck-driver dad, Tommy (Will Patton), at a bar and the two proceed to tear through a bottle of tequila.

The not quite smooth-talking Tommy says he’s been on a lucky streak and has the cash to prove it, giving his daughter more than enough to buy a new swing-set for Georgie. Turns out the source of Tommy’s wealth is his sideline job sneaking Mexican immigrants north across the border for $500 apiece. Ashley initially condemns her dad’s illegal practice but soon finds herself performing the same duty for a desperate family whose youngest member is the cute Rosa (Hernandez). When Ashley fails in a job for which she’s not remotely qualified, she ends up saddled with the girl.

At this point, Riker steers the film toward predictable cross-cultural and cross-generational sentimentality. Stringy-haired Ashley toys with the notion of abandoning the girl, but a mother’s protective instinct is evidently too strong. That the two gradually form a bond will surprise no one on either side of the border; that the film contrives to let Ashley off the hook for her gross negligence near the Rio Grande isn’t altogether surprising, either, but it is revealing of the pic’s priorities. Certainly Cornish, who capably handles both Spanish and a Texan drawl, is vastly favored over Hernandez in terms of the camera‘s attention and the narrative’s as well.

While vividly lensed in 35mm by Martin Boege, “The Girl” is underdeveloped on scripting and editing fronts, with several of the most potentially dramatic events taking place offcamera. Pic makes memorable use of Texan and Mexican locations, except during the crucial border-crossing scene, wherein the area around the Rio Grande looks suspiciously like a set. String-based score is drippy.

The Girl

U.S.-Mexico

Production

A Goldcrest Films, Cinereach Films presentation, in association with Lulu Producciones, of a Journeyman Pictures production, in association with Axiom Films, Sin Sentido Films, Bonita Films. (International sales: Goldcrest Films Intl., London.) Produced by Paul Mezey. Executive producers, Philipp Englehorn, Nick Quested. Co-producers, Douglas Cummins, Christian Valdelievre, Tania Zarak. Directed, written by David Riker.

Crew

Camera (color), Martin Boege; editors, Malcolm Jamieson, Stephanie Ahn; music, Jacobo Lieberman, Leonardo Heiblum; production designer, Salvador Parra; costume designer, Mariestela Fernandez; line producers, Becky Glupczynski, Rafael Cuervo; casting, Cindy Tolan, Vicky Boone, Alejandro Reza, Hanne Jimenez Turcott. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 20, 2012. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Abbie Cornish, Will Patton, Maritza Santiago Hernandez, Isabel Sanchez Lara, Angeles Cruz, Annalee Jefferies, Luci Christian, Austin Wayne West. (English, Spanish dialogue)

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