David Gordon Green's debut film, George Washington, was a painterly group portrait of preteen anguish. Now that America's most gifted young auteur is 27, he's graduated to kids in their late teens and early 20s but with the same desperate, comic, always human yearning to connect. Among an attractively aimless flock of singles, All the Real Girls focuses on two figures: Paul (Paul Schneider), 22, a Dennis Quaid look-alike with the rep of a ladies' man who "took 'em down and laughed about 'em on the way home," and Noel (Zooey Deschanel), a precocious virgin just becoming aware of her power over men. She doesn't want to go to college and spend "four years writing bad girl-poetry"; he is reluctant to take advantage of the first girl who could make him fall into the abyss of love.
Green shoots his groping lovers in the art-film style long takes, static frame but his tone isn't at all minimalist; it's achingly, breathtakingly romantic, like the old Hollywood love stories his kids have never seen. (The movie opens with a scene that reasserts the primacy of the first kiss as rite of passage into emotional turbulence.) Around the main couple he devises a constellation of edgy pals and anxious parents; he understands there's no girl so possessive as a guy's jealous buddy, no woman so ruefully knowing as a Don Juan's mom. These glances of wisdom help make All the Real Girls the best, most ornery date movie of the postdating age.
The film shares another sweet secret: Deschanel. At 23, this coltish beauty looks ready for stardom. A man or a movie could get lost in her wide eyes.