By: Steve Pulaski
While Marfa Girl 2 feels like a shell of a movie, I find its existence as an eviscerated final cut hard to believe seeing as Larry Clark operates with no studio backing and almost all creative control of his projects. That leads me to believe he conceived the film to be as undercooked as it is, and that's even more disappointing. The quiet release through VOD platforms and Clark's personal website also don't suggest the 75-year-old filmmaker is doing his part to promote his work either. It's always heartbreaking to see a master succumb to the lesser tendencies of his art.
Following the downright awful The Smell of Us, Clark's French film from several years back, this sequel to Clark's 2012 effort is one of the most perplexing and needless sequels since Uncle Kent 2 turned heads at SXSW 2015 (only because everyone was asking the same question: "what was "Uncle Kent 1?"). Though I have a feeling many who stumble upon this film will be asking the same question, I think most Clark fans won't need an explanation. Marfa Girl was a fascinating experiment for Clark, as he openly admitted to conceptualizing the film as he directed it, completely abandoning classical structure. "It was like a painting," he stated. "I only painted what I wanted to paint." He tried to corner his target audience, who he noticed consumed almost all of their media on their laptops and iPads, by self-releasing it on his website, just like Joe Swanberg did with his medium-length feature Marriage Material the year prior. As for the movie, he made a serviceable, frequently interesting look at a sleepy border-town defined by poverty and prejudice.
As for Marfa Girl 2, flashes of brilliance lurk in the thinly veiled, barely 74-minute film, but those instances are seldom in a film that is otherwise nondescript. It reintroduces us to the four troubled young people of the first film, this time centering more around its titular character (played by model-turned-actress Drake Burnette), who is now raising a child brought on by a brutal rape that took place in the first film. Battling PTSD and postpartum depression, she struggles to give the child the warmth and love it deserves, for every time she looks at it, she sees the face of the aggressive border patrol agent that assaulted her. Still the town hunk is Adam (Adam Mediano), who spends his days getting high and having sex as opposed to looking for work or raising his two children from two different women. His live-in girlfriend, Inez (Mercedes Maxwell), is sick and tired of his laziness, and she eventually turns to their mutual friend, Miguel (Jonathan Velasquez), just to know what if feels like to be treated nicely again.
As is expected with any and every Clark movie, the characters frequently have sex and engage in explicit conversations about sex. The film opens with Adam and a lady-friend having a conversation about the clitoris, which could very well be the same dialog I recall occurring in the first Marfa Girl, with her promising Adam that when he turns 18 in less than one year, she'll have sex with him till his eyes fall out. The subsequent scene is an impressively literal one. Later in the film, a character comments how sex is its own language, and that serves as the thesis for a film that has more sex scenes and nudity than it does spoken dialog.
Marfa Girl 2 feels flimsy, void of the tension that made its predecessor inherently investing. The significance of Marfa was its existence as an impoverished, predominately Hispanic locale where domineering border patrol lackeys would harass its young, questionably documented residents, and the resulting ennui from those latter individuals. Multiple sources list the film's runtime as 106 minutes, the same as the first film, and while I can believe it was once that long, I don't understand its current form. It's essentially a scrapbook of loosely intertwining characters and events, all of which would be credible and immersive, if they were the least bit connected as opposed to being tangential and ostensibly piecemealed together at random.
It's reasonable to assume Clark took the same improvisational method with letting the handful of young actors on display here come into their own naturally. Velasquez, who has been a collaborator of Clark's since 2013, at one point being the center-figure on some plain white tees Clark sold on his website, gets some time to hone his acoustic skills as well as his prowess for intimacy. Burnette handles a more emotional, challenging role rather well, but one can't go much further than that in offering praise because there's at least another two or three sizable chunks of her story missing. Enough to throw the ballsy climax off-base enough where the praise we offer it comes with an asterisk.
Clark is still capable of writing raw, believable conversation between youths, not to mention his and returning cinematographer David Newbert's ability to capture picturesque moments of intercourse. Clark hasn't lost what made him great many decades ago and that's his keen eye for raw images and photographs of people and events that people would rather stage or simply ignore. Although Marfa Girl 2 meanders as it falls very short of its predecessor — and very short in even touching the quality of Clark's cannon — the strengths of the seasoned filmmaker still emerge from time to time, gripping us ever so loosely even as we drift off to find better.