September 30, 2011
Below is The Boston Herald review of Jackson Rathbone’s film,’Girlfriend.’
“Girlfriend” Not rated. At Coolidge Corner Theatre: B
Filmed in his hometown of Wayland, writer/director Justin Lerner’s “Girlfriend” finds the first-time filmmaker tackling a tough subject, and mostly succeeding.
Written for and starring Lerner’s high school friend, Evan Sneider, the movie has heart to spare. And although Sneider’s character shares some traits with the actor — they’re both named Evan and have Down syndrome — this isn’t a documentary; Sneider deserves great credit for giving a complex, moving performance in his first lead role (he previously appeared in Lerner’s short, “The Replacement Child”). Lerner’s seemingly brought out the best in his buddy while navigating a subject we hardly see in cinema: a yearning for normality by someone society shuns.
Evan lives with his mother (Amanda Plummer) in an economically depressed town (Wayland is used beautifully by cinematographer Quyen Tran), where the two toil at a greasy spoon. Their life together isn’t perfect, but it works. Evan loves television soap operas (he passionately talks his patient mother through the plots); she loves him, unconditionally.
But Evan, now about 30, desires more than just his mother’s love. One night, she asks him to make a wish. Since we’ve already seen him secretly pining for Candy (Shannon Woodward, TV’s “Raising Hope”), an attractive, barely employed single mom, we’re not surprised to learn he wants a girlfriend.
When he comes into a large sum of money, he takes it to Candy, who’s facing the possibility of eviction. As she hesitantly accepts his offer of support, they begin a complicated emotional entanglement, the two of them desiring different things — or possibly the same.
Sneider and Woodward have tremendous chemistry together, and Lerner allows Evan and Candy’s tentative relationship to evolve in a naturalistic manner. Still, Lerner has worked in a wild-card named Russ (Jackson Rathbone, “Twilight”), an auto mechanic, and Candy’s volatile ex. Some late-film developments dip into melodrama. But the darker elements never overtake the brightness that Sneider brings to his difficult role as a gentle soul with big dreams.
(“Girlfriend” contains sexual themes.)