Nate von Zumwalt
It’s a tall order to merely get past the title of White Girl, Elizabeth Wood’s tenacious directorial debut, without detecting hints of—or being smacked in the face by—the film’s controversy. White Girl. Is it a drug reference? A bold commentary on race and privilege? A reach for provocation? Perhaps all three, but not without leading viewers on an unflinching exploration of race, socio-economic class, and drug culture, filtered through the blurred lens of a part-sympathetic, part-maddening young woman played by the fresh-faced Morgan Saylor.
Wood was raised in Oklahoma City but moved to New York to study writing at The New School, a period of time upon which the film is partly based. Right or wrong, that reality lends the story line a strange and guilty variety of credence, but also ensures that there is more than a dash of satire and critique going on in White Girl. The story follows Leah (Saylor) as she jets through a hectic streak of sex and drugs after being wooed by a young and handsome drug dealer by the name of Blue. The two strike up a quickly burning romance that gains speed after they become a deft drug dealing duo—Blue supplying the product, and Leah slanging it to everyone from clubgoers to her sleazy boss (Justin Bartha).
Sure enough, life in the fast lane soon lands Blue in the pen while Leah is left with his generous drug supply and her failing naiveté. As she’s forced to occupy the much more experienced shoes of Blue in order to bail him out, Leah’s whatever-it-takes mindset begins to shatter her world. Wood expertly heightens the stakes by conveying the dueling worlds, both real and metaphorical, that exist within this particularly unsettling narrative. Whether it’s the aggressive and inappropriate pursuits of her boss or the fact that Leah herself gets off scot-free during Blue’s arrest, there are divides, injustices, and privilege everywhere you look.
White Girl intends to make you squirm, but not without purpose. Wood’s undulating drama visits woozy nights of drinking, frenetic coke highs, euphoric sex scenes, and devastating cases of abuse. But it’s beyond this veil of hedonism and disturbing behavior where we find the frightening themes that exist, with or without the drugs and sex.
Below, check out the trailer for the film.
Girl screens Saturday, August 13 at Sundance NEXT FEST at the Theatre at
Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles and will be followed by a
conversation with director Elizabeth Wood and a special guest. Get Tickets and see the entire festival program here.