North Carolina writer-director David Gordon Green takes his time. That may be the kiss of death in caffeinated Hollywood, but Green's 2000 debut, George Washington, revealed a promise that All the Real Girls makes good on. Opening on Valentine's Day, after competing at Sundance, the film takes on a trite topic -- young love -- and finds truth in small details. Paul (Paul Schneider), 22, lives with his mom (the miraculous Patricia Clarkson) and works for his uncle in a mill town that gives him time to hang with his buds and screw the local sluts. Then, home from school, comes Noel (Zooey Deschanel), 18, a virgin and the sister of Paul's best friend, Tip (Shea Whigham).
With the help of gifted cinematographer Tim Orr, Green tracks the dynamics of these relationships with rare humor and feeling. Schneider subtly uncovers Paul's inherent decency, and Whigham makes Tip's confusion sweetly sorrowful. But the film belongs to Deschanel. A comic dynamo in supporting roles (Almost Famous, The Good Girl), Deschanel gentles into the star spot with a bone-deep understanding of the joy and pain of romantic yearning. She's a heartbreaker. So's the movie.