“AWOL” is a heart-wrenching love story that wreaks of betrayal. Even though the name of the Deb Shoval-directed film gives away the ending, the audience can’t help but root for the couple to succeed.

From the moment Joey (Lola Kirke) lays her eyes on Rayna (Breeda Wool), she can’t help but be infatuated with her. She also can’t help but pick up her bad habits. While Joey is fresh out of high school and contemplating joining the military to get out of their small Pennsylvania town, Rayna is already shackled to it because of the choices she’s made.

From its inception, their torrid love affair is shrouded in secrecy. Joey has an awkward walk-of-shame, meeting Rayna’s two young daughters and being asked if she wants to stay for some macaroni and cheese for lunch. The major problem, of course, is Rayna is married.

awol_press_2 Lola Kirk stars as Joey in "AWOL, director " Deb Shoval's first feature-length film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Photo: Tribeca Film Festival

Rayna's life is drastically different than her lover's. While Joey is out to her family, the only one who seemingly knows about Rayna’s feelings toward women is her grandmother. She alludes to Rayna "messing around with those tomboys" again when she finds out about Joey. 

Kirke is both confident and vulnerable as Joey. She’s delusional enough to try to get Rayna to leave her husband, yet practical enough to join to Army to try to make a better life. 

Knowing their relationship couldn’t work, Rayna pushes Joey to join the military. Of course, as suggested by the film's title, her plan veers off course. Someone’s heart is bound to get broken, because when Joey returns for Christmas break, Rayna begs her to stay. She’s had a change of heart. But who winds up getting left behind?

More than a lesbian love story, Shoval's film explores the problems with first love through a poignant, dismal lens. It grabs the audience’s attention from the beginning, waiting to see whether the relationship is doomed.

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