I can’t believe it! A film with a disabled character who isn’t a maudlin stereotype? Will wonders never cease? “Girlfriend,” in the spirit of “Sling Blade” or “Treacle Jr.,” creates a unique and engaging protagonist with a intellectual impairment. But this time, the actor who plays the lead (Evan Sneider) is also disabled.
Afflicted with Down Syndrome, Evan (Sneider) lives with his mother (Amanda Plummer) in a small town that offers few options. Meanwhile Evan is enamored with old high school crush and single mother Candy (Shannon Woodward), whose feelings toward Evan and his challenges are ambiguous.
Into this scenario swaggers Candy’s white trash ex-boyfriend Russ (Jackson Rathbone, venomously unlikable and liberated from the “Twilight” franchise). When Evan’s mother dies, his attraction to Candy only intensifies, and all three are caught in triangle that will leave none untouched.
One of the reasons I watched this movie was that I heard Amanda Plummer was in it, so it was disappointing to have her die in the first ten minutes. Nevertheless, Evan’s mother Celeste is one of the best portrayals and most real characters in this story.
Far from being a typical movie hero mom, Celeste has her good days and her bad, like any other mom. There is one scene where Celeste represses her rage at her and Evan’s oppressive employer with a subtle facial twitch which I felt really displayed Amanda Plummer’s acting talent.
In fact, the only performance I felt was a little weak is Sneider’s. I know, I feel like I’m picking on the disabled kid in the lunchroom, but Sneider was not prepared to take some of the dramatic turns the story took. Nevertheless, his occasional faltering didn’t distract me from the story too much.
Evan is a very interesting character in that I got to see him exercise his dark side a little, which is rare in a movie like this. It’s always aggravated me the way people desexualize people with disabilities, so seeing Evan experience libido and exhibit desire for a relationship — and yes, sex — was refreshing.
I found the ending a little convoluted. You know that moment when things are resolved only as they are in the movies? Yeah, like that. The final twist was similarly unsatisfying, as I think sex shouldn’t be something you give out to compensate for past mistakes. At the same time, though, I was kind of impressed they were daring enough to end it that way.
Overall, “Girlfriend” is a very underrated and intriguing movie about small town relationships and the limitations we all have. This is writer/director Justin Lerner’s first feature-length movie, and I hope to see more of him very soon. I recommend this film to anybody who loves independent movies.