'White Girl' Review: Sexed-Up Indie Not as Shocking as It Thinks

Coming-of-age drama about young woman in the big, bad city plays up class disparity, coke-fueled bad behavior

Yes, 'White Girl' is filled with sex, drugs and a young woman's debasement — but is it any good? Peter Travers weighs in on the Sundance shocker.

Is there anything less shocking than a movie that thinks it's shocking? See White Girl and discuss — and you should see it, if only for the all-stops-out performance of Morgan Saylor. She plays Leah, a New York college student on the yellow brick road to cocaine and near-constant debasement. The character is based partly on the exploits of Elizabeth Wood, the film's writer and director, so art really is imitating life — though neither is immediately recognizable as such.

The "white girl" of the title isn't Leah or Elizabeth, however, but a stash of cocaine belonging to Blue (hottie rapper Brian "Sene" Marc), a Puerto Rican drug dealer who lives near the scuzzy New York City apartment occupied by Leah and her roomie Katie (India Menuez). Raised privileged in the whitebread Midwest, Leah is a girl who just wants some big-city fun. This means screwing her brains out and pushing Blue to sell his blow to a more affluent market in Manhattan. Of course, this lands her man in jail. She plans to get him out by hiring a high-priced lawyer (Chris Noth) whose fee comes from fucking Leah and selling the coke Blue left behind, i.e. the same drugs our heroine rarely stops snorting.

Are you sensing a pattern? And did I mention Kelly (Justin Bartha), Leah's douchebag boss at a digital media rag where she serves as an unpaid summer intern and who helps pave her path to after-hours urban hell? It sure isn't Wonderland this Alice falls into. Is Wood trying to say something profound about a society that sees drugs and human flesh as saleable commodities? Or is she exploiting the sight of Leah in short-shorts and miniskirts to commodify her own ascent as a first-time filmmaker? Maybe it's a little bit of both, spiced with a keen flair for making a camera do her bidding. And Saylor, the sulky Brody daughter on Homeland, jumps off the screen, alive to every challenge Wood throws at her. She's a talent to keep an eye on.