“If you’re watching this, you discovered something you shouldn’t have,” we’re told at the start of Nate Taylor’s feature film debut Forgetting the Girl, in which our eerily obsessive, eerily haunted, yet eerily normal main character Kevin Wolfe (played by Argo’s Christopher Denham) talks directly to the audience via a video camera, while explaining/narrating along with his slideshow.
Even without the filmic medium, there’s almost always a camera that serves as a barrier between us and Kevin Wolfe that he perpetually hides behind, snapping head shots in his studio of an endless parade of beautiful girls who’ve come to New York from elsewhere to become an actress, a model, a dancer, a whatever, a somebody – anybody other than whoever they currently are.
And that desire to change is why a majority of the girls don’t even give it a second thought when they decline the date that the man holding the camera inevitably asks them on... because the last thing they want to be is just someone’s girlfriend.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and a few lovely girls take him up on the date. Yet as we’re quick to discover, unfortunately many more of the women say yes initially only to decline later with a phone call and a flimsy excuse as their Midwestern sensibility prevents them from being cutthroat enough to say no directly to his face, even with the barrier of the camera between them.
But for every moment of heartbreak endured by the persistent cameraman, he in turn confesses that he must complete some kind of ritual (from binge-watching DVDs to going camping with his depressively suicidal Goth girl assistant Jamie) to help Wolfe go about forgetting each girl.
Having spent his lifetime trying to forget the first girl he loved that left him via the mystery drowning death of his beautiful baby sister, Kevin just can’t bear to remember all of the rejection he’s faced. Emotionally exhausted, it seems he's recently realized that he’s running out of new rituals that manage to do the job.
Needless to say, there's something quite dark lurking beneath the surface of our aptly named Wolfe. And while unfortunately the film’s DVD and Blu-ray packaging alerts you to precisely what it is before you’ve even pressed play, director Taylor does a masterful job of bringing award-winning author Peter Moore Smith’s eponymous short story (which was adapted by the scribe himself) to life.
Originally collected in the anthology collection of Best American Mystery writing for the year 2000, Taylor and Smith have kept that sense of mystery intact, resulting in a work that’s as disturbing both in its subject matter as it is in its lyrical, nearly poetic beauty that goes hand-in-hand with the world of a man who brings gorgeous images to life.
Augmenting the alternately sinister yet unquestioningly lovely look of the film is Smith’s crisp screenplay which is so pitch perfectly on display in Wolfe’s narration that it’s actually guilty of being a bit too self-consciously literary at times.
Obviously, that’s a flaw that’s easy to overlook given the artistic ambiance of the piece that nonetheless still harks back in spirit to Martin Scorsese’s quintessential New York tale of masculine alienation and loneliness, Taxi Driver.
And given the way that Wolfe goes through life far-removed from it (with that camera barrier), the film does a great job of bringing that same sense of irritable tension to cinematic life, inviting us to view events from the point-of-view of not only Wolfe but the other outsiders that populate the film including his mentally unstable assistant and his obviously twisted landlord.
While some aspects of the film are a bit confusing, particularly with regard to Wolfe's relationship and history with his grandmother that might have been clearer in the story, overall Girl is a fascinating work of experimental filmmaking.
Challenging and questioning our first impressions of the characters (as well as any prejudices we might have about them) including whether or not we’re willing to easily defy traditional protagonist-centric storytelling and see Wolfe in a wolfish light early on, Taylor and Smith go against the grain of formulaic suspense in one thought-provoking debut that’s sure to inspire ample post-film discussion.
Released onto a lush Blu-ray by Film Movement’s sister company RAM Releasing, Forgetting the Girl (which also boasts a commanding yet understated turn by the powerful Denham), is the type of narratively challenging, high caliber independent filmmaking that’s as easily, undeniably impressive as it is hard to forget.
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