Virgin

Writer-director Deborah Kampmeier's rough-edged but affecting drama revolves around an unworldy 17-year-old and the brutal consequences of her rebellion against the strict religious mores of her family and neighbors. The cracks in the small-town Reynolds family's facade are apparent there long before bad-girl Jesse (Elisabeth Moss, of TV's The West Wing)...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Writer-director Deborah Kampmeier's rough-edged but affecting drama revolves around an unworldy 17-year-old and the brutal consequences of her rebellion against the strict religious mores of her family and neighbors. The cracks in the small-town Reynolds family's facade are apparent there long before bad-girl Jesse (Elisabeth Moss, of TV's The West Wing) starts drinking, smoking, shoplifting and refusing to pay lip so much as lip service to the Baptist beliefs of her parents and straight-laced younger sister, Katie (Stephanie Gatchet). Mr. Reynolds (Peter Gerety) is covering his affair with another woman by claiming to attend frequent religious conferences; Mrs. Reynolds (Robin Wright Penn, who also helped produce the film) drinks and cries quietly to country-western songs; and Katie channels all her frustrations into running and praying. But Jesse's wild behavior drags their difficulties into the harsh glare of community disapproval. Already drunk, she cuts out of a church-sponsored dance one night to hang out in the woods with Shane (Charles Socarides), the handsome, college-bound classmate on whom she has a major, unrequited crush. She passes out after a quaalude-and-beer cocktail and Shane rapes her; Jesse wakes up the next day with no apparent memory of the assault, but claiming that God spoke to her in her dream and she's pregnant with the second Christ child. Is she self-deluded, deranged or has she deliberately chosen to make the most provocative claim she could make under the circumstances? Katie's spiteful, jealous reaction — "I try so hard to be good and you're just awful; I pray and God speaks to youme," she wails — and their father's fury are nothing compared to what Jesse endures when word of her claim gets out. She's mocked and shunned by her classmates, condemned from the pulpit and belittled by Shane, who's determined to maintain his nice-boy reputation. Shot for less than $75,000 on digital video, Kampmeier's debut feature could use some judicious trimming; two secondary characters — a battered wife (Daphne Rubin Vega) and a homeless madwoman (Socorro Santiago ) — are simply mouthpieces for the quotidian miseries of women and the film's bird symbolism feels heavy handed. But Moss' extraordinary performance as the restless, troubled Jesse makes up for a multitude of minor flaws; it's so transparent it scarcely seems like acting at all, and gives the film a haunting power that's hard to shake off.

Cristin Milioti, <em>USS Callister (Black Mirror)</em>

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