The initial grimness of David Riker’s The Girl promises a plunge into narrative depression that, thankfully, dissipates with the arrival of the eponymous child. Ashley (Abbie Cornish) is a deeply unhappy woman in a Texas border town, overlooked by the manager at her blue-collar job, and a drunk separated by the courts from the young son she can’t afford to raise. When she discovers her cretinous father working as a coyote, illegally transporting Mexican immigrants into the U.S. inside a big-rig trailer, Ashley decides to attempt her own human smuggling but has no idea what she’s doing. The woman she’s transporting drowns in the Rio Bravo, leaving behind Rosa (the remarkable Maritza Santiago Hernandez), a placid and heartbreakingly honest little girl, now orphaned and far away from her home in Oaxaca. Despite her own pressing needs—a lack of money, an impending court date—Ashley can’t shirk her responsibility for Rosa’s plight. Following some unfruitful adventures with Mexican bureaucracy, the pair travels south to reunite Rosa with her grandmother, a journey of redemption that the film makes all too easy. We never see the child mourn her mother (though Rosa’s grandmother does). Ashley is easily forgiven by the family, her sins washed away in a baptism of easy epiphanies, dreamy rural images of rolling mountains and village life, and the kind of cinematic distance-gazing intended to convey soul-searching and renewed faith and whatnot. Hernandez is soulful and affecting, though, and Cornish embodies Ashley’s self-centered character with nuance and subtlety.
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