Writer-director David Gordon Green is in his mid-twenties but looks even younger, and after only two features, “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls,” he’s developed a style–loose, digressive, atmospheric and elegiac–that’s quite distinctive. He and Paul Schneider, a buddy who helped Green develop the “Girls” story when they were classmates in film school in North Carolina and now stars in the picture with Zooey Deschanel, recently visited Dallas (Green’s home town, where he once was an usher in a local theatre) to talk about the film. “All the Real Girls” is a decidedly unconventional love story about the romance between an immature young stud and his best friend’s sister. How did Green decide, after the succes d’estime of “Washington,” to return to a script the duo had originally worked on years ago in a genre that so often gets a by-the-numbers treatment on screen?
Green said it was because the screenplay was “emotionally very accessible. This seemed to be the one that we could branch out with and gain new audiences. The real drive of doing it now would be that we are these guys and ages, and we know these characters because we live in this place, and we can bring authenticity to it rather than a sense of nostalgia.” Schneider added: “Also, it’s a good pitch. It’s a young twenties love story. I mean, on paper it’s very accessible, and in the theatre it’s very accessible, too.” But though it might seem like familiar territory, it’s treated in very unusual way. “It was always very interesting to me to have a juxtaposition between genre convention and the way David makes movies,” Schneider added. “Within the very marketable premise there’s going to be this otherworldly town, which I enjoy. At the same time, very naturalistic acting [and] an awkward love story, as all real love stories should be. It’s all about miscommunication and confusion and passion, but not having the facility to articulate that. The last thing that this film is, is eccentric, if you think about it. Isn’t it more eccentric to have a maid fall in love with a senator and everybody has witty quips about falling in love, and maybe some obstacles will come up, but you’re going to do it, it’s going to be all right, with a prepared speech at the end and swelling strings? I’ve been in love a couple of times, and I never had any swelling strings. That’s what’s odd to me–that’s what seems eccentric.”
Green agreed. “We saw that there’s a void in this niche, in this genre that we find entertaining for the most part,” he said. “I grew up with John Hughes movies. Definitely there’s a demographic and a genre that deals with this [area] and totally entertains us, but there’s a void in the naturalistic, believable project that’s made solely so that people of any age can identify with these people and recognize these voices and these places…[and] people that act and are shaped like human beings.” He continued: “The pitch was simple. I walked in there and said, I’m a 25-year old filmmaker, and I want to make a movie that’s as if John Cassavetes was making a John Hughes film. And I want it to be on a realistic level, where I can cast who I want, I can cast the right actors rather than the right names, and I can edit the way I think is appropriate for it, and that’s going to be taking a lot of chances in improvisation and really making the emphasis of the movie be on naturalism…. Structurally we take a lot of our mannerisms and our sense of pace and the complicated emotions I think we deal with and the challenges in story development from movies from the late sixties to the seventies…. A lot of that has to do with those little tangents, sidetracks, side characters and secondary characters that aren’t necessarily central to the plot but bring a thought process to the central characters, an atmosphere, a sense of meditation and observation.”
Schneider pointed out, however, that the apparent looseness and discursive quality is actually achieved by lots of hard work. “It’s great that it feels like improv,” he said, “but it sort of denies all of the work that the actors did, ’cause I sat down at my mom’s dining-room table for, I don’t know, forty-eight man hours, just to get a couple of monologues right…. The improv that works is the stuff you’ve spent so much time on the character, you’ve spent so much time on the script, that you can get into that mindset so that your improv does work.”
Green and Schneider expressed pleasure that “All the Real Girls” won a special award for “emotional honesty” at the Sundance Film Festival. “That’s kind of cool, you know?” Schneider enthused. “A jury that definitely likes a movie but doesn’t know where to put it, doesn’t know how to categorize it, which is even better.” Green continued: “This is a movie about little windows into people’s lives, and we get to look at them for a little while,” to which Schneider added: “The point is to set up a movie and then the audience pays it off a day later.” Green interjected: “Exactly. It gives the audience something to think about. It’s not a pretty, complete package where you can walk out done.” He recalled a comment made to him by a viewer at a recent screening: “He said it was a remarkable movie about unremarkable things–which is ultimately what we were going for, those little moments that nobody makes movies about, those little gestures and mannerisms.”