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THE PRETTY ONE (2014; Dir.: Jenee LeMarque)

GRADE: C-

By Daniel Barnes

The seemingly limitless appeal of Zoe Kazan gets seriously tested in writer-director Jenee LeMarque’s The Pretty One, opening today at the AMC Metreon in San Francisco.

Kazan plays twenty-something twins Laurel and Audrey, and the dual roles are a perfect opportunity to exploit her silent actress-like talent for physical and facial comedy.  Unfortunately, Kazan and several other appealing performers (including Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and John Carroll Lynch) are wasted by LeMarque’s lifeless direction and a script that doesn’t give them anything interesting or real to say or do.

LeMarque piles on the contrivances from the first scenes – Laurel is a pathetic but sensitive small-town homebody who wears her dead mother’s clothes, idolizes her cooler twin, loses her virginity to the teenage boy she used to babysit, sulks in a tree house, and cooks breakfast for her art forger father and his blowsy trailer park girlfriend.  Quirky enough yet?  We’re four or five minutes into the film.

It doesn’t get much less annoying from there, but The Pretty One does offer an early twist with some potential for perverse insight.  After getting matching haircuts and switching seats, Audrey and Laurel get into a serious car accident.  Audrey dies, but the doctors mistakenly ID the dead body as Laurel, who goes along with it (first out of post-traumatic confusion, then out of resentment over father’s seeming lack of grief) and assumes Audrey’s surprisingly messy life in the big city.

Any potential in that absurd premise is thoroughly unrealized, and instead the film indulges in squishy psychology, wanton failure-to-success montage-ing, terribly weather-beaten clichés, deadly third-act heavyhandedness, and dialogue that is bland enough to make a Mumble-core scenarist seem like Clifford Odets by comparison.   By the time The Pretty One reaches its ghastly, “tear-jerking” graveside confessional, it almost seems like the movie is messing with you.  Kazan deserves better than this, and hopefully she’ll get more flattering showpiece roles like her self-penned part in the solid 2012 film Ruby Sparks.

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