The Pretty One is Pretty Great

Ross Staff Image

If you’re like me, when you have a favorite actor or actress, you try to see as many of their projects as you can. Sometimes it can be challenging because of the sheer number of films (Angela Lansbury has over one hundred credits listed on IMDb) or because a particular movie is incredibly hard to find (has anyone seen Johnny Depp’s The Brave?).  Zoe Kazan is the reason I sought out The Pretty One.

After a random car accident leaves Laurel without her twin sister, Audrey, she pretends to be Audrey and reinvents herself as the girl she always wanted to be.

Judging from that trailer, I was expecting a light, fluffy, run-of-the-mill romcom, like some kind of discount Frank Capra film.  Featured on the 2011 Black List (no, not THAT Blacklist) of Best Unproduced Screenplays of the Year, The Pretty One is not the light film I was expecting.  While there are some laughs, writer and director Jenée LaMarque is much more interested in exploring heavier subjects, like the nature of identity and the impact we have on people as well as the emptiness of loss.

That empty feeling is conveyed in the way the film is framed.  Much like 2013’s Ida, the negative space in certain scenes tells us almost as much about the characters as their dialogue. When Laurel is alone in her room, it’s just as empty as she is. Her side is sparsely decorated whereas Audrey’s side is filled with character-defining awards, knickknacks and tchotchkes. Laurel is the quirky twin, a “strange little bird” and Audrey is the successful real estate broker, the titular pretty one.

The sibling rivalry in The Pretty One is explored from an interesting angle. Laurel has always wanted to be Audrey, and now that she has the chance she’s still unsure of who she really is.  I don’t have a twin, but I have a younger brother.  He’s gorgeous.  He looks like the first guy who was ever carved out of white marble.  Me, on the other hand, I look like a Pablo Picasso painting rescued from a house fire.  He can sing like a nightingale and I sing like a hedgehog getting stepped on by a hippo.  But he can’t eat everything on Taco Bell’s menu in one sitting like me so I’d say we’re pretty even.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Kazan ever since her small recurring role in the criminally short-lived HBO series Bored to Death. She’s just so stinking adorable, and what she does here is some of her best work to date.  She plays the dual role of Laurel and Audrey here with enough variances to make each girl seem different and real. Just one look at her face and you know exactly what she’s feeling.

Zoe Kazan in The Pretty One
In this case, she’s either sad or hates murals. Click through for source.
© Provenance Pictures / RCR Pictures

 

At the funeral for the twin everyone thinks is Laurel, no one speaks.  There are no words or memories to share.  This infuriates Laurel—who everyone thinks is Audrey—and she explodes at the mute mourners, including her father, played with quiet intensity by John Carroll Lynch, a highlight of the film.

Another highlight is the chemistry between Kazan and Jake Johnson, sporting a hunky lumberjack beard.  Johnson, like literally everything I’ve seen him in, really shines when he’s onscreen. I really believe that one day he’ll go the way of Chris Pratt and be headlining his own comic book movie monstrosity.  That is, if The Mummy remake doesn’t tarnish his image (Yes, they’re remaking The Mummy. Speaking of which, has anyone seen Brendan Fraser lately?).

I like when movies surprise me, but there’s a good chance you might not like this one.  Laurel and her family go through the kinds of changes that can only come through death, and it’s not always pretty.  If that doesn’t sound like ideal viewing for your movie night, skip this one and go watch Gods of Egypt or something.  But if you have time to watch a quiet little film with nuanced performances, pick this up.

–Ross

Watch Zoe Kazan be adorable:

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Ross works as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He loves reading books and watching movies and will often ramble about the two here.