Friday, February 7, 2014

The Pretty One (2013)

Jenée LaMarque's The Pretty One, which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and opens for general release this week, starts off making us think it's going to be a buddy comedy with twins—the low-pitched, repressed Laurel, trapped at home caring for her widowed father, and outgoing, effusive Audrey, who escaped from her family to live a more vivacious life in the proverbial big city, selling houses and having an affair with a married man. The movie we think is about to happen is a pretty good one thanks to the simultaneously wide-eyed and weary Zoe Kazan playing both parts. Picture a road trip with these two and, aside from all the trick photography that's going to entail, we're pretty much along for that trip... the sort of movie that, if you haven't read any summaries ahead of time (or, say, this review)...

Those expectations end pretty darn quickly, throwing a savage curveball at what we thought could have been the plot: Laurel and Audrey are in a car wreck. Laurel dies. Audrey lives. From the accident, Audrey arises as Laurel, assuming her identity, first in confusion, then in earnest, making her escape from her routine life under the guise of her twin. Any wish-fulfillment for Audrey-as-Lauren is pretty quickly dashed, however: 'her" funeral turns, to her dismay, into a tableaux that nobody's really broken up about Audrey's death. "Her" affair with the married man unravels fast. On the other hand, as Audrey/Lauren breaks out of the rote roles of both herself and her sister, she might just find a new romance living right next door.

LaMarque's script pretty much encapsulates the platonic concept of "quirky indie," and her direction tends to hammer forth both the emotional feeling and visual look of an indie-director-who-made-it-big like Wes Anderson: direct, square angles exactly bisecting the screen to show off the twins in equal space; heavily-symbolic paintings to symbolize what each girl thought she was and what the new Audrey/Laurel isn't; wacky, idiosyncratic dialogue while sneakily swimming in the next door neighbor's pool. It's thanks to Kazan that most of this is actually endearing. With a less talented actor this would just be another body swamp comedy in indie clothing. Put another "quirky" actress in the same role-I'm thinking Zooey Deschanel, mainly because Audrey's wanna-be-lover is played with a goofball earnestness by Jake Johnson, Deschanel's co-star on New Girl-and the movie, with its plot of the sort that only happens in the movies, would just seem like another wispy and pleasant but gone-quickly from the mind indie rom-com. Kazan plays this all perfectly sincerely, an anchor holding the plot together, and pretty competently too, especially when her plans unravel and telling the truth only puts things wrong, not back the way they were, That she sells the transformation from the girl, to the pretty girl, to the pretty cool girl, is the wonder in this film, and the beauty too.

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