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Pretty One, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Partially-filled potential."
3 stars

It sometimes feels like Jenée LaMarque could have done more with "The Pretty One"; the idea of one identical twin taking the place of the other is certainly not new, but it's the sort of plot device that can play differently with each new iteration depending on the actor and character(s). Zoe Kazan certainly give this picture a solid place to start, and while she could have been given opportunities to do more, there's value in how she and the filmmakers never actually make a wrong step.

As the film starts, Laurel and Audrey (Kazan) have been living separately since high school: Confident Audrey sells storybook houses in the city, while mousy Laurel still lives with their widowed father. On their birthday, Audrey treats Laurel to a makeover, which is why there's some confusion at the hospital after the girls are involved in a head-on collision, leading to an initially- amnesiac Laurel taking her sister's place.

There is, of course, a job, a boyfriend (Room Livingston), a best friend (Frankie Shaw), and a cute neighbor (Jake Johnson) to consider, but a grieving sister with a head injury explains away a lot, and while it can sometimes feel like hand-waving, it's often kind of a relief that LaMarque doesn't bog things down with much focus on the mechanics of Laurel avoiding discovery or their being some sort of exterior reason why she should. You can have those and still make a movie about a girl lacking in self-confidence to the point where she feels like she's more useful filling someone else's place and using that new perspective to figure out what her own role should be, but they do have the tendency to overwhelm. This movie takes the occasional short cut, but it seldom loses sight of its goal.

On the way, LaMarque litters the film with reflections of what's going on. We first met Laurel helping to forge famous paintings but not getting them quite right because she keeps putting herself into them, figuratively speaking. There's also a recurring bit about how she and her neighbor Basel play at being other people in the neighborhood, just in case one level of role-playing wasn't enough. One eye-catching bit is the duplex that "Audrey" and Basel inhabit; there's a visual symmetry to it that occasionally carries over to other shots, although there are moments when it seems like LaMarque and cinematographer Polly Morgan could have used it more often. Then again, by the time the audience notices it, Laurel has started to emerge as her own person and it is perhaps no longer appropriate.

Getting Laurel there is some nice work on Zoe Kazan's part. Even though she's not actively playing two characters for the entire length of the movie, she does a fine job of establishing Laurel and Audrey as different right of the bat without making them opposites, and then having Laurel grow up in a way that doesn't make her just a copy of Audrey. It's impressive and important; even if the viewer can guess that loading a twin is just the worst thing imaginable, it works even better if he or she likes Audrey but in a different way than Laurel. Kazan carries the movie with relatively little need for help, although it's good that she and make Johnson work well together. Arguably even more important is join Carroll Lynch, playing the girls' father in a way that is often frustratingly imperfect, but does demonstrate some emotional reservoirs when needed.

Kazan and LaMarque handle the technical challenges of the scenes where Laurel and Audrey are in the same scene together fairly smoothly, although LaMarque avoids doing anything that will make the audience wonder how they pulled it off. That's not a bad thing, though; the scale of this movie is small enough that even the sort of invisible special effects that don't strike a viewer as really complicated until later would be a distraction. This limited scope can sometimes be a bit frustrating, though; bits like the boyfriend Laurel is none too interested in feel like they're filling time that more interesting topics that are raised and then just allowed to peter out. It creates a sort of frustration that might not have been there without the moments when it was remarkable.

That's a rough criticism to lay on a film. "The Pretty One" seldom actually missteps; it's sweet and funny without ever betraying is moments of genuine hurt. It's just got enough going for it that, like Laurel herself at the start of the film, it often falls short of the potential that you know is there.

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originally posted: 02/09/14 16:29:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2013 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

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  07-Feb-2014 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jun-2014



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