With a name that screams “indie sensation,” Juno Temple is an electric talent, a blonde sprite whose bright, energetic performances have lit up independent films from Gregg Araki’s Kaboom to William Friedkin’s forthcoming Killer Joe. Bought for a princely sum at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, the grotesque comedy Dirty Girl is both Temple’s splashiest showcase to date and something her nascent career will have to survive. In many ways, the film is history repeating itself, as the same Weinstein brothers who famously dropped $10 million on Happy, Texas in 1999 have overpaid again for Happy, Texas 2. The films have several elements in common: a grotesquely stereotypical vision of Southern small-town life, a sentimentality that burbles through the broader-than-broad comedy like acid reflux, a wealth of scenes that would never ever ever happen in any world resembling our own, and the presence of one William H. Macy as an affable redneck.
Set in a conspicuously tacky Norman, Oklahoma in 1987, where all hairdos are feathered and the trailer parks are monuments to kitsch, Dirty Girl stars Temple as the town’s resident slut, a pariah at a conservative high school—at least when the boys no longer want something from her. Booted to the remedial program, Temple finds a friend in fellow outcast Jeremy Dozier, an overweight, latent homosexual who’s as awkward and introverted as Temple is brazenly outgoing. Together, they partner up in a class project to take care of a flour bag as if it were a human child. The flour bag becomes a metaphor when Temple convinces Dozier to steal his father’s car and drive her cross-country to California to meet her deadbeat dad.
Macy, Milla Jovovich, Mary Steenburgen, and Dwight Yoakam are among the recognizable faces in Hicksville, each playing characters whose human moments are overwhelmed by cartoonish ones. Things should get better when Temple and Dozier flee Norman for a Little Miss Sunshine-like road trip, but Nicholas D’Agosto’s role as a hitchhiking gay stripper doesn’t exactly represent a film keeping its excesses in check. Writer-director Abe Sylvia reflects mid-’80s Middle America through a fisheye indie lens, and films don’t get much uglier than this.