If you have seen Blow the Man Down, you know how good Morgan Saylor is as Mary Beth. An up-and-comer still in her 20s, Saylor has a few notable roles behind her, few better than White Girl, a street-level story of lovers on the run with a nose full of blow. The movie came and went in 2016, but thanks to streaming will live forever. From Boulder Weekly Vol. 24, No. 6, “She don’t like, she don’t lie, she don’t lie.”
It sure is fun to be young. Not yet old enough to experience that odd combination of nostalgia and melancholy that plagues most adults, and still too young to worry about the future, the youth get to reside in that sweet spot where everything exists in the present tense.
For most people, that sweet spot is in the college years. That is where Leah (Morgan Saylor) is supposed to be, but she is far too busy chasing pleasure down the wrong block to worry about grades. Leah’s drug of choice: cocaine, and lots of it. It’s never clear if Leah is an out-and-out hedonist looking for a good time, or if she uses sex and drugs to push everything else out of her mind, but either way, Leah is a goer. And White Girl is an unabashed, painfully honest depiction of someone who is so laser-focused on the here and now that she has no idea what kind of trouble is waiting for her around the corner.
Largely based on her own experiences in New York City, writer/director Elizabeth Wood uses White Girl as naked autobiography. An early scene sets the tone: Leah’s boss at the magazine she interns at offers her cocaine in exchange for sex—though the second half of that transaction isn’t exactly agreed upon. What takes place isn’t rape, but it isn’t consensual. For Leah, the act is one of resignation. She’s been here before, and there is a good chance that she’ll be here again. Sex opens certain doors and can be used to get what she wants. And what she wants is the white powder on the desk.
But once Leah’s dealer/boyfriend, Blue (Brian Marc), is arrested, Leah is left with a whole sack of cocaine that she needs to sell. If she doesn’t, she won’t have enough to hire the lawyer (Chris Noth) to get him out of jail or pay back Blue’s dealer (played with creepy, icky poignancy by Adrian Martinez). Leah has no idea how to deal, or whom to trust, but all of that disappears in the blink of an eye once she realizes that the solution to all of her problems is that beautiful sack of white booger sugar. Zip, pow, bang! And all of Leah’s problems disappear right up her nose.
Drugs have an amazing habit of making both the future and the past evaporate in the blink of an eye, and Saylor does an outstanding job visualizing that in her performance. While high, Leah’s face is one of detached ecstasy. When she comes down, that mask reveals a lost girl wracked with pain and anxiety.
White Girl is every midwestern parent’s worst nightmare: Child ventures off to the Big Apple and takes a left turn at Sodom and Gomorrah. The question is: Does Leah want to be here, or is she trapped? Trying to pin that down is like hitting a moving target, one that changes from scene to scene, but the look on Leah’s face in White Girl’s closing shot might be the most revealing.