When Evan’s (Evan Sneider) mother dies unexpectedly, the young man – who has Down’s Syndrome – is left to his own devices. Although it seems he has always had a fondness for a former school friend Candy (Shannon Woodward) his feelings and actions soon spiral out of control, especially when Evan realises that Candy is still mixed up with her ex-boyfriend.
The idea behind Girlfriend is an interesting one – what happens to those who have always had someone in their life, when that someone is taken away? Evan’s mother was always the one who doted on her adult son, and kept him in check, when she disappears however, the vacuum that she has left must be filled.
Evan Sneider is possibly the best thing about the film, even though his character is certainly not the innocent he would like to think he is. Sneider balances a desire for unconditional love and affection with the character’s desire for sex in an amazingly nuanced way. It is clear to see that Evan’s actions are not as genuine as he would like those around him to think, and there is a sinister undertone to every good deed that Evan does. That said, Sneider manages to make Evan lost but predatory, which is a rare combination.
Shannon Woodward – the object of Evan’s affections and best known for her role on TV in Raising Hope – is much more overtly selfish than her co-star. Without wondering whether she is taking advantage of Evan – for more than a moment, anyway – she takes as much advantage of him as he does of her. Woodward brings a rare sorrow to the character and, even though there is little more to Candy than her grief, it is great to see the actress make the move from small screen.
Writer / director Justin Lerner has taken an interesting angle on the issues of abandonment and selfishness, but while the movie raises the question of whether Evan’s behaviour and Candy’s selfishness would have been different had Evan had different emotional development, the film does not answer the question. Instead, Girlfriend spends much of it’s time focusing on violence and obsession, which is something that we have seen on screen a million times before, without the added layer of awkwardness surrounding Evan’s Down’s Syndrome. This may have been Lerner’s ambition all along; to make the audience cast aside their assumptions of a character based on what is on the outside, but this is not explored fully and so falls flat.
Girlfriend is an examination of two characters selfishly using one another for different reasons. Lerner may have intended the film to make a statement on society, but somehow the message is lost and the film becomes a study of whether Evan and Candy will ever sleep together. Sneider, for his part, is excellent and although Candy may be one dimensional, Woodward manages to make audience empathy for the character ebb and flow in an interesting manner.