“White Girl” is edgy and realistic and has a lot on its mind, all qualities that are worth celebrating individually in a movie and even more so when they’re combined.
The picture, set in Ridgewood, Queens, is so uncompromising in its depiction of the hedonistic and troubled life of naive college student Leah (Morgan Saylor), with graphic sex scenes and moments of gut-churning violence, that the portrayal starts to overwhelm the efforts of writer-director Elizabeth Wood to connect her story to sociological issues.
As a consequence, the movie reflects its protagonist in uncomfortable ways, achieving a sort of relentless sensationalized effect in which the audience is left to do little but absorb the spectacle of a privileged young white woman self destructing.
Leah moves into the neighborhood alongside her roommate Katie (India Menuez) and soon begins a passionate romance with Hispanic drug dealer Blue (Brian Sene Marc). Things are made spectacularly complicated when he’s busted by an undercover cop, resulting in Leah becoming increasingly sucked into a world she can’t begin to understand.
Wood has a sharp eye for the ecosystems of a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, an assortment of locals and transplants warily intersecting. The movie practically drips with sweat in its portrait of drug-fueled, summertime passions, set against noisy streetscapes and amid cramped walk-up apartments. In the depiction of racial politics on a local, personal scale, particularly the destructive power of white privilege, the movie makes overtures toward a treatise on the way we live now, in these five boroughs.
The explicit, nearly-constant, sex, drugs and violence take the movie out of that realm. After awhile, scenes depicting Leah’s ceaseless pursuit of pleasure, including numerous, pointlessly intense encounters with the editor (Justin Bartha) at her magazine internship, and long-winded sequences showing her predilection for partying with wild abandon, start to feel less like important character details and more like punishment.