It would have been easy for White Girl writer/director’s Elizabeth Wood’s first feature film to have gone horribly wrong and it’s hard to describe its plot without making it sound like an offensive mess. In broad strokes, it’s the story of Leah (Morgan Saylor), a 19-year-old college sophomore from Oklahoma, who moves to an ungentrified block in the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood. There she takes up with the young, handsome Blue (Brian “Sene” Marc), one of three neighbor locals of Puerto Rican descent who make their living selling drugs. Trouble follows.
Wood’s film isn’t a simple story of innocence corrupted, however, or the empty provocation its title might suggest. In fact, the title contains the first key to understanding what the film’s up to. It’s the story of a white girl, but also about how being a white girl shapes how the rest of the world sees her, and the ways it creates buffers that slow her descent as she makes one bad decision after another — buffers Blue and others don’t enjoy. Leah lives in a New York where it’s easy to fall, but the world lets some fall harder and further than others. (It’s also, not coincidentally, slang for cocaine, featured in this movie in quantities seldom seen since New Jack City.)
The film opens with Leah moving into a new apartment with her roommate (India Menuez). She spends her days working an unpaid internship at a hipster-catering media company where she makes no attempt to fend off the predatory advances of a boss named Jelly (Justin Bartha), insofar as she even has a choice. Given a few lines of coke behind closed doors she’s on her knees, as if this were part of the job description. She spends her nights hanging out and getting high with her friends. Then one evening, after they run out of pot, she takes to the street and tries to buy what she needs from Blue. Respecting the unwritten code that he can sell to neighborhood types but not white girl outsiders here for a semester or two at best, he sees this as a line he cannot cross and refuses to sell to her. Then he changes his mind.
This works out well, for a while. As Leah and Blue fall for each other, Leah gets a free flow of drugs and, through Leah and her friends, Blue gets access to clients willing to pay him three times what he charges locals. He even musters the courage to take a much-larger-than-usual order from a terrifying dealer (Adrian Martinez), secure in the knowledge that he’ll be able to pay him back by the weekend. But when an undercover cop arrests Blue mid-deal, it’s Leah who has to try to turn a profit on the inventory and earn enough money to pay back the dealer and hire a lawyer (Chris Noth) who promises he can get Blue out of jail.