Lone Star Cinema: The Girl


Abbie Cornish and Maritza Santiago Hernandez in The Girl

David Riker, who directed independent immigrant drama La Ciudad, helmed a film in 2012 titled The Girl. This seems at first glance a far-too-general name for a movie about immigration, life on the border, motherhood and desperation. Is the "girl" of the title Ashley (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star, Sucker Punch), a young mother struggling to make money so she can get back custody of her son? The viewer wonders as we see her flustered under the keen eye of a social worker, arguing for more shifts at the grocery store, or riding along with her trucker dad (Will Patton, Remember the Titans, TV show Falling Skies) to Mexico.

Ashley becomes convinced that she can be a coyote -- she desperately needs the money this bad idea will bring her. Among the group of people she picks up in a Nuevo Laredo plaza to convey over the border is a young girl, who is definitely the inspiration for the title.  Ashley and the child (we find out three-quarters into the film that her name is Rosa) are thrown together by circumstance, and end up helping each other.

The Girl was filmed in Austin and areas of Mexico.  The main character is portrayed by an Australian actress who cannot pull off a believable Texan accent.  Thankfully, the majority of the film is in Spanish, which Cornish speaks capably -- or as well as someone with a high-school level knowledge of the language might. Cornish conveys her character's confusion and frustration clearly; her character's slow growth is moving to witness.

Riker and cinematographer Martín Boege use careful shot composition in Ashley's scenes, making her silent, stressing-out moments that much more impactful.  As Ashley and her dad head to Mexico, the sunlight through the windshield casts interesting patterns on her face.  It appears that natural lighting was used throughout The Girl.

Rosa is the first film role for child actress Maritza Santiago Hernandez. Her character is persistent, a constant reminder of Ashley's mistake. Rosa also becomes a stand-in for Ashley's own child, braiding her hair and upbraiding Ashley for the flaws she sees in the young adult.  Hernandez is never strident or annoying in the role; her character's emotions fluctuate naturally.

This 2012 movie reminded me of John Sayles movies, such as Lone Star or Go For Sisters, which dealt with similar themes. The Riker film uses a much smaller cast to tell a more intimate story. It takes a little bit, but once The Girl finds the right momentum, it is a captivating film about the deepening relationship between these females. 

The Girl is available to stream on Netflix Instant.

Austin connections: The Girl was partially filmed in Austin -- I think I spotted Southpark Meadows, but I wasn't absolutely sure.