Frameline 40 Film Review: “AWOL”
The only chance that Joey (Lola Kirke) has of improving her life choices is by enlisting in the Army. They at least will not only let her see the world but also fund her entry into college too. She is a recent high school graduate in a economically depressed small Pennsylvania town, and with jobs extremely scarce, she gets low-paying work with a dairy farmer looking after his herd of cattle and helping out at his ice cream stand. It is whilst she is working there one night that she gets picked up by Rayna (Breeda Wool) an attractive and flirtatious woman who is probably twice her age.
When Joey wakes up in Rayna’s trailer home the next morning she quickly discovers that her party-animal ‘date’ is in fact a married mother, with two young children, whose truck driving husband is out of town. As she hastens to leave, Rayna asks that Joey keeps what happened last night on the down-low, but it’s quite clear that even after this one brief encounter, Joey is already smitten.
Joey’s older siblings warn her that Rayna has a hard-earned reputation for being trashy and has had more than her fair share of bed partners, including Joey’s own brother. However she pays no heed and starts hanging out with Rayna as often as she can even though the woman is petrified that people will discover the true nature of their friendship. In fact when they are caught making out in the farmers barn, it costs Joey her job.
Her infatuation with Rayna makes her now re-think about joining the Army as it will mean leaving her, but the older woman encourages her to enlist as the pay could enable her to leave her husband and set up home with Joey instead. Once Joey is in the services and doing her basic training before being shipped off to serve in Afghanistan, Rayna changes her mind again, and that’s where the title of the movie comes in.
The intriguing movie directed and co-written by newbie filmmaker Deb Shoval was developed from a short movie that she made in 2010. The story of an inexperienced young lesbian making bad choices after falling for a much older woman is not new, but her angle with economic hardships making both women so vulnerable, gave it an interesting fresh angle. Joey’s risk-taking decisions were always made from the heart and at the encouragement of her older lover who’s own chosen path was guided by her internalized homophobia and her finely honed survival skills that would always result in her callously using people for her own ends.
The drabness of these women’s existence living hand-to-mouth was perfectly portrayed with this image of depressed small-town life which somehow seemed totally unchanged for decades, a little like the whole concept of closeted lesbians marrying men. Kirke put in a fine convincing performances as an irrational Joey whose blinkered vision was a tad too hard to accept even though a first love can often make you do some wildly aberrant things, and Wool playing the annoying self-centered Rayna, was excellent too.