The Pretty One (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Pretty One (2014)

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In The Pretty One, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) plays identical twin sisters who have taken very different paths.  Laurel is a shy girl who creates replicas of masterpieces while Audrey lives in the city and introduces people to their dream homes.  A sudden accident gives Laurel opportunities she never had, but questions whether they are worth the cost.  The Pretty One is Jenée LaMarque's first feature-film as writer and director.

DualityDoubles and twins are huge in the world of off-beat films right now.  We had Richard Ayoade's The Double, which was a stylistic delight but presented some problematic gender issues that were never fully dealt with.  Then there was Denis Villeneuve superb Enemy, which used its protagonists cloudy moral structure as a launching pad into a seductive, amber-toned, nightmare of desire.  It's important to note that both of those films, and many others in the double story trope like it, are anchored firmly in male viewpoints.  When the switch occurs, these films are more about the opportunities men have that have gone to waste for whatever reason, and are illuminated from a different perspective.

So The Pretty One stands alone in that the switch takes place between identical sisters.  But instead of using that as a different backdrop to the same kind of story we've seen before, Jenée LaMarque uses it as a springboard into a look at the gendered expectations of women that are consistent through different environments.  If films like The Double are about opportunities discovered from a different perspective if the man is different ever so slightly, then The Pretty One is about how those opportunities are never afforded to women no matter how different they are.

The indie sad montage doesn't do much to distinguish itself from other somber moments in better films.

The indie sad montage doesn't do much to distinguish itself from other somber moments in better films.

I wish I could say that the movie is as stylistically interesting to look at as it is to talk about.  But LaMarque dutifully goes down the book of indie cliche's and doesn't add much to spice up the generic flavor.  The worst is the time-lapse montage of a sad character who has to stay very still while the world continues on without them, a trope that I would like to see go into temporary retirement for a few years.  LaMarque also likes to give the characters the aimless sentimental quirky of attachments to inanimate objects, and frequently uses the visual standard of near-perfect visual symmetry in her shots.  Since the story is about identical twins this makes sense to a point, but the story further evolves into how people viewed each one, and the camera never evolves along with it.

Dutiful is also how some of the plot points pay out throughout The Pretty One, despite the potential for greater emotional impact.   The low key moments, like when Laurel as Audrey starts to settle in to her sister's higher-energy life and has triply-deceptive conversations with the cute neighbor, are the best moments.  Dialogue that seems like simple role play takes on a new meaning when Laurel, as Audrey, is stuffed into role-playing the house wife, which is what Laurel thought she might have been able to escape when she became her sister, is so rich that the scenes deserve multiple playbacks just to take in the layers of what is, and isn't, being communicated.  But the sad moments, which involves a life insertion so outlandish it deserves to be layered with the same nuance as the joyful parts, involve a lot of somber face montages and sad piano pop.

The biggest problem with The Pretty One is that there are so many layers of perception to what Laurel and Audrey are supposed to be that the great insights gleaned from those moments have to take a backseat to get the silly plot moving.  Many plots, when broken down to their basic components, are absurd.  But LaMarque's writing in The Pretty One is so good that when the multiple moments of misunderstanding or way out-of-place physical comedy come that I wished the scripts could have gotten another work through or two.  It might have also disposed of the mostly useless exposition dumps, where the plot-established closeness of the sisters has to be reconciled not through their interactions with one another, but them just telling the audience that they are so close since mom died.

Kazan and Livingston crackle in their scenes together, and I would love to see them partnered again.

Kazan and Livingston crackle in their scenes together, and I would love to see them partnered again.

This is all just a bit of fat on an otherwise interesting film and the performers are nothing if charming throughout.  Zoe Kazan is the main weapon of any film she's in, and her previous work on Ruby Sparks shows that she has a knack for picking interesting films that challenge gender norms.  Ron Livingston is the other superb performer, providing a lot of entertainment and menace is a package of slick charm with just a hint of possessive violence.

But, when the bottom line comes around, I just wasn't as involved as I wanted to be because of the various quirks and fat that inflate the film.  Even so, I take a lot of comfort knowing that this is only LaMarque's first film.  She can formulate an interesting premise, and attract the right kind of performances to flesh it out.  In a few years she could be on her way to greatness.  For now, The Pretty One is a nice try.

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Tail - The Pretty OneThe Pretty One (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Jenée LaMarque.
Starring Zoe Kazan.

Posted by Andrew

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