Margin Notes

The best moments of Suburban Girl are those at the start, as the credits play over a series of split screens revealing the working life of Brett (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a book editor working on a particularly bad series of books. As she sits in her office or reads while walking, we see her hand constantly writing comments in the margins of the texts, then crossing them out, then rewriting them with even greater vehemence. Her red pen corrects the grammar, makes emotional use of question marks and angry exclamation points, and even doodles pictures beneath purple passages of prose. It's a wonderful visualization of the small steps of writing and editing a text, and a nice metacommentary on the act of translating a text from page to screen: what do you keep and what do you cut out?

Based on two short stories from Melissa Banks' The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Suburban Girl (the bland renaming already giving a hint of the film's problems) is a slight piece, a movie whose potential is apparent but only appears in flashes between the cliched older man-younger woman relationship narrative that dominates it. That the younger woman is played by Gellar and the older man by Alec Baldwin makes those cliches more palatable: they are both gifted at underplaying and finding funny notes to land on, and they both radiate intelligence, which makes them convincing as members of the publishing world. And they have good chemistry together, Gellar's furrowed brow meeting Baldwin's wryly raised eyebrow to make for a winning combination of wit, melancholy and cynicism about love's travails. But how does Brett's dad fit in? Or her dyspeptic brother? What happens to the friends and boyfriends that appear and disappear at random throughout the film? And wasn't there a way to more firmly integrate the professional and personal issues the film explores? I haven't read Banks' book yet, but I suspect its length and detail allowed a greater amount of breathing room for all those characters and plot points. Suburban Girl is fun, but it could've used a Brett in the editing room.


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