In 1995 Larry Clark stirred up the national conversation with “Kids,” a frank and disturbing look at sexually irresponsible, drug-abusing, sometimes violent teenagers in New York City. It wasn’t a great film but it was a memorable and provocative piece of work.
Twenty years later, Clark is still fascinated to an unsettling degree with promiscuous young people, this time in the small border town of Marfa, Texas.
What he neglected to do was provide any kind of a story to go along with all the nudity and violence and meandering, mostly dull dialogue.
“Marfa Girl” was filmed in 2012 but is only now reaching theaters, and as we’ve seen with the recent “Serena” and so many other delayed releases, that’s almost never a good thing.
This is a well-photographed film with some stark and stunning visuals of a fascinating town. Located in West Texas, Marfa has a population of just 1,981 according to the 2010 census, but it’s become something of a tourist destination and a beacon for young art students after the late minimalist Donald Judd established two foundations to support the creative arts.
Drake Burnette plays one such artist, who is never given a name in the film and is referred to as “Marfa Girl” in the credits. She’s a lithe, pretentious and sexually voracious girl who beds nearly every man she encounters and spends the rest of her time lecturing Border Patrol agents on race relations or giving sexual advice to the one male in her life she ISN’T sleeping with: 16-year-old Adam (Adam Mediano).
Although Marfa Girl tells Adam she’ll sleep with him in a year, once he’s mastered a certain sexual technique. So he’s got that to look forward to.
Adam has a sweet and loyal (albeit excruciatingly dull) girlfriend named Inez (Mercedes Maxwell), and he tells Marfa Girl he’d never recover if he found out Inez was cheating on him — but that doesn’t stop Adam from sleeping with a young mother (Indigo Rael) whose husband is in prison.
The numerous sex scenes are so uninteresting and devoid of creativity or plot advancement, even the actors participating in said encounters seem bored. Detours into the lives of a pregnant teacher who literally spanks Adam with a paddle for falling asleep in class and some women standing around talking about the deaths of their dogs are weird for the sake of weirdness. (It doesn’t help that the cast is filled with nonprofessional actors, who come across as … not professional.)
Then there’s the story of the vile, racist, psychopathic border patrol agent Tom (Jeremy St. James), which plays like an entirely different movie. From the moment when Tom makes a wildly inappropriate comment to a teenage waitress to the chilling encounters he has with Adam and Adam’s mother late in the film, it’s clear this guy should be locked up before something violent and terrible happens. As disturbing as this material is, at least there’s a story of sorts, and a strong performance from St. James.
In fact it’s the only legitimate performance in the film. Drake Burnette does vacuous work as the title character. Adam Mediano is OK at best as the 16-year-old object of so much female attention. Of the various supporting characters who wander in and out of Clark’s lens, none stands out. They’re not the worst actors ever; they’re just not doing a whole lot with characters who don’t have a whole lot to offer.