Southern discomfort

Director David Gordon Green's specialty isn't action, suspense, or even storytelling. It's building a sense of atmosphere so vivid you can almost taste and smell it.

"All the Real Girls" was written and directed by Green, whose low-budget drama "George Washington" earned a New York Film Critics Circle Award as the best movie of 2000 by a first-time director.

Like his previous picture, "All the Real Girls" makes you feel you're ambling through a southern town where personal problems loom large for youngsters taxed by shortages of energy and excitement.

I admire "George Washington," and I'm eager to encourage any filmmaker who thinks restraint and understatement are viable commodities in today's sensation-saturated movie world.

So it's no pleasure to report that "All the Real Girls" falls short of its admirable goals.

The plot, about the hesitant love affair of an oversexed young man and an inexperienced young woman, is so slender it's hardly there at all.

The main characters are unremarkable, and most of the acting is dull.

Green stays true to his principles, unfolding the tale at a leisurely pace and using silky-smooth camerawork to evoke a palpable sense of time and place.

He never exaggerates an emotion, overuses a technique, or flaunts his cinematic skills.

Sadly, he never builds much dramatic interest, either.

The sophomore slump is a common occurrence in filmmaking, often striking when a still-young director tries to transform intuitive notions into reusable formulas.

Green falls prey to it here, but there's no reason he can't learn from this experience and avoid similar pitfalls in the future. He remains a highly promising talent.

Rated R; contains vulgar language and brief sex.

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