Author: David Riker
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:After unsuccessfully attempting to bring a group of Mexicans across the border into Texas, an American woman finds herself caring for a young Mexican girl.
Synopsis:ASHLEY COLEMAN (mid-20s but worn out) works at Wal-Mart. She quietly steals a child’s toy and is caught almost immediately. Her manager is stunned that she’d steal something so cheap, but Ashley explains her payday isn’t until Friday and then requests a raise. When the manager refuses, she accuses him of favoring the Mexican workers over her. Ashley drives to a small house in North San Antonio, where she finds GEORGIE (5) playing on the front lawn. Georgie is her son, but he has a foster mother, GLORIA, who urges Ashley to keep her distance, for Georgie’s own good. Angrily, Ashley leaves. As she drives home, she gazes mournfully signs advertising homes for sale. She lives in a dingy trailer park, and when she gets home, she finds her father’s rig parked in front of it. TOMMY COLEMAN is gregarious and a little obnoxious. Ashley immediately assumes he’s in some sort of trouble. They haven’t seen each other in a very long time. He lives in Mexico and hauls goods across the border. Tommy invites Ashley back to his place. She’s uneasy, but she’s so depressed, she goes.
Along the way, Ashley brings up her mom. Tommy thinks she’s still trying to get them back together. They cross the long bridge over the Rio Grande, into Nuevo Laredo. Tommy takes Ashley to a cantina, where she gets smashed on tequila. Tommy is surprised to learn she speaks fluent Spanish. Tommy pulls out a wad of $100 bills and peels off a few for Ashley. She’s confused about how he got the money, but she takes it. Ashley spends the night at Tommy’s house. The next morning, they ride back across the border. Along the way, Ashley’s startled when she hears banging coming from the trailer. She realizes there are people inside. They pull up along the bridge, where trucks are stacked up for miles, and the U.S. border patrol simply ushers them through. Tommy explains it’s a simple, easy ruse, and he’ll never get caught.
Not long after Ashley gets home, she gets a surprise visit from SALLY, her Child Protective Services case worker. Ashley’s uneasy about the condition of her place, despite Sally’s reassurances. Things get awkward when Sally finds a bottle of tequila, a gift from Tommy. She accuses Ashley of falling off the wagon, which she denies. Ashley angrily accuses CPS of trying to keep her from her son, before throwing Sally out. Feeling trapped and unsure of where to turn, Ashley returns to Neuvo Laredo to find her father for help. He’s gone, so she wanders Plaza Juarez alone. A Mexican man offers to pay her $500 a head to take his friends to Austin. She refuses. Ashley crosses the bridge back into Texas, then goes offroad, driving along the river bank. She finds its shallowest point, finds an empty wooden shack on the Texas side of the river, considers it. She returns to Plaza Juarez to pick up as many Mexicans as she can fit in her Cherokee (including FELIX, PANCHO, little ROSA (8), and her MOTHER). Ashley charges the Mother for Rosa.
Ashley takes them to the narrow spot in the river, tells them to cross and wait in the shack until she gets to them on the other side. The Mexicans are uncomfortable with the arrangement. They want inner tubes to help them across. She tells them to strip down and carry their clothes over their heads. Reluctantly, they agree. Ashley drives away. As she heads back toward the road, she sees a helicopter flying overhead. When she gets to the other side, Ashley drives along the riverbank with her headlights off. Eventually, she makes it to the shack. The only people there are Felix, Pancho, and Rosa — and none of them are happy. The chopper came right over head, trying to force them out of the river. They were the only three to make it across. Ashley tries to reassure them and herself that the others problem just went back to the other side. Felix and Pancho force her to drive them to Austin, but they don’t pay her, and they don’t take Rosa. Rosa is convinced her mother is at the river and demands that they go back. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her back, but they find no one. Ashley catches sight of a border patrol van and instructs Rosa to hide behind a tree. She tells the agent that she needed to stop and pee. He warns her that it’s unsafe. When the agent leaves, Ashley gets Rosa, who wants to follow the river. Instead, Ashley drives her back to Plaza Juarez, where she tries to leave Rosa with a stranger until Rosa’s mother shows up. Rosa starts yelling and making a scene, so Ashley stays with her and agrees to help her look for her mother. She asks Rosa to retrace their steps. Rosa remembers them staying with a priest and leads the way to Casa Migrante, a halfway house for immigrants.
Seeing Casa Migrante is a nice place with good people, Ashley tries to leave Rosa there. When she finds Felix and Pancho are there, they finger her as a coyote. The entire group swarms after her and Rosa. Ashley grabs Rosa and gets out of there, quickly. With nowhere left to turn, she goes to Tommy’s. Tommy is shocked and enraged that Ashley has taken it upon herself to become a coyote. What he does is low-risk, but what she is doing can be incredibly dangerous. He also warns her against keeping Rosa around for too long, so she doesn’t get attached. His perspective has echoes of his abandonment of Ashley, upsetting her and strengthening her resolve not abandon this little girl. So Ashley takes Rosa to the cantina, where she gets hammered on tequila while Rosa looks on. Things get ugly with a man in the cantina, so Ashley stumbles out, dragging Rosa with her. Rosa chastises her for drinking, but Ashley’s too drunk to care.
The next morning, a disheveled and hungover Ashley wakes in a hotel. Rosa digs through Ashley’s wallet and finds a photo of Georgie as a baby. Ashley calls Sally from a payphone to apologize. Sally reminds Ashley that her next court date is tomorrow. Ashley is shocked and a little terrified. Rosa insists that they go to a church that Rosa’s mom frequented. They can look for her, and if they don’t find her, there’s a photo of her there that they can use to try to find her. Ashley gets lost trying to find the church. Frustrated, Ashley stops the car beside some train tracks. Rosa brings up Ashley’s baby, which gets her a little emotional. Assuming Ashley’s mad about the money, Rosa insists her mother will pay her once they find her. Rosa starts talking about her grandmother’s house in San Juan, a little town in Oaxaca. Ashley relaxes a bit. When she hears a train coming, she shows Rosa how to put a penny on the tracks so the train flattens it. When the train passes, they realize they’re sitting right across from the church.
Rosa finds the photo of her mother in a mosaic of hundreds of churchgoers. When a church caretaker hears Rosa’s mother was lost at the river, she takes Ashley aside and explains the firemen pulled two women out of the river yesterday. Ashley insists this can’t be Rosa’s mother, but she goes to the police anyway. She tells her story to a missing persons officer, who shows her the photos of the two women pulled out of the river. One is bloated and unrecognizable — but the other is clearly Rosa’s mother. Ashley can hardly bear to look. A social worker pulls Rosa away, to be put into the care of nuns until she can be placed with a family. Ashley tries to stop them, but she can’t. Ashley drives back across the border, but she stops and has an emotional breakdown before turning back. She goes to the Casa de las Ninas and, with considerable effort, snatches Rosa back. Rosa is not happy, about the abandonment or her obviously dead mother. She’s silent in the car. Ashley calls Sally to reschedule the court date. The best she can do is six months. Ashley has a decision to make — and she sticks with Rosa. Ashley gets a map, so she can figure out how to get to San Juan, but Rosa wants to go to the river. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her there. Rosa makes a circle of rocks on the bank. As she asked earlier, Rosa wants to follow the river to its end. Ashley drives Rosa to the beach. Rosa views the gulf, possibly for the first time, and breaks down in tears. Ashley comforts her.
Ashley and Rosa cross Mexico. To get her mind off her mother, Ashley asks Rosa what she’ll do when she gets home. Rosa describes it in detail, seeming to forget and viewing Ashley as her mother — but then she slips and remembers, and it upsets her again. They drive deep into the mountains. Finally, they see a distant church, which marks the entrance of the village. A fiesta is happening when they arrive, and many of the villagers recognize Rosa. They call for her GRANDMOTHER, who knows upon seeing Ashley that her daughter is dead. It saddens her. Ashley apologizes for her mistakes in helping them cross the border. The Grandmother expresses gratitude that Ashley brought Rosa back. They hold a ceremony for Rosa’s mother. Ashley’s surprised by how many children populate the village. The Grandmother explains that all of their parents went north to the U.S., leaving the elders to care for their children. Ashley says a tearful goodbye to Rosa, finally admitting her baby is no longer a baby — he’s five. She has no new photos because he was taken away. She tells Rosa that her mother clearly loved her a great deal to take Rosa with on the journey to America. Rosa is heartened by that. Ashley gets in her car and starts driving. The mountain terrain is difficult, so she has to drive slow. She hears Rosa shouting after her. Rosa gives Ashley the flattened penny, to give to Georgie. The villagers set off fireworks. Ashley tells Rosa to go watch them for her, then continues her journey, a glint of hope in her eyes for the first time.
Comments:The Girl is a depressing yet optimistic story of a woman who finds redemption after a lifetime of mistakes. Although it is quiet and deliberately paced, the strong characters and deceptively complex narrative make this script a very compelling, rewarding experience. As written, it merits a recommend.
The first act takes its time in establishing Ashley, a woman whose anger and alcoholism prevent her from doing anything worthwhile in her life. She has a miserable job and home, abandoning parents, and a child of whom she’ll possibly never regain custody. For somebody as reckless and ignorant as she’s portrayed, it makes perfect sense that she’d dive into the coyote game without having a clue what she’s doing.
It’s when she’s forced to care for Rosa that the story really comes alive. Although the pairing of a youthful innocent with a hard, cynical adult is nothing new, the writer does a great job of drawing parallels between Ashley and Rosa, Tommy and Ashley, and Ashley and Georgie. The writer also doesn’t make it easy for stubborn Ashley to redeem herself. Even as their bond slowly forms, Ashley is willing to drop Rosa off with whoever will take her. It isn’t until Ashley learns that Rosa’s mother is definitively dead that she realizes this girl’s life will head down the same rotten path that Ashley’s did, unless she takes action. In a nicely unexpected turn, Ashley is smart enough to realize she’s no more fit to take care of Rosa than Georgie is. It’s her mission to get Rosa back to the people who will love and care for her properly.
After taking time to allow Rosa to grieve, the third act focuses mainly on the newly bonded duo’s journey back to Rosa’s isolated village. Despite the bittersweet parting of Ashley and Rosa, the story still manages to end on a positive note, as it becomes clear that Ashley has made some realizations about her priorities, while Rosa is back in a nice, nurturing environment.
Ashley’s character is extremely strong and vividly rendered. The writer wisely doesn’t apologize for her mostly awful behavior in the first two acts. She’s a miserable, angry person who’s portrayed as adrift, overwhelmed, and unable to handle adulthood. The transformation over the course of the story is well-drawn. The writer never makes the mistake of having her do a complete 180. At the end of the story, Ashley’s still angry and still an alcoholic — but she’s learned a fair amount about what’s important in life, and the script ends with the feeling that she’ll slowly make the changes she needs to in order to have a worthwhile existence. Rosa is equally solid, in her own childish way. She never feels cloying or precocious. The writer draws subtle parallels between her and Ashley, depicting them both as stubborn and a little hostile. He never overplays the slow formation of their bond..
The supporting characters exist primarily to reinforce the lives and conflict of the two main characters. As such, few of them appear in the story for more than a scene or two, and they aren’t incredibly nuanced. However, Ashley’s interactions with characters like Tommy and Sally do a terrific job of showing who she is and how she ended up that way. In that sense, these characters are successful.
The characters are strong, but it’s essential that strong performers play these roles. Any missteps in the casting will be detrimental to the success of this script as a film.