Review: The Pretty One

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The Pretty One, 2014.

DIR. Jenee LaMarque. Starring: Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, John Carroll Lynch, Ron Livingston, Shae D’lyn, Frankie Shaw, Sterling Beaumon

Upon reading the plot to this film – twin sisters Laurel and Audrey are involved in a car accident, whereupon Laurel takes the identity of her now-dead but more popular sister – you would be forgiven for giving it a miss on the basis of sheer ridiculous. Somehow, however, the film succeeds in pulling off this premise with relative aplomb.

I suspect this is in part down to the likeability of the lead actress who plays both sisters, Zoe Kazan.

After a sparkling breakout performance in Ruby Sparks, Kazan has cornered the market for slightly awkward, but adorable love interest. And The Pretty One is no exception.

audrey laurelWe meet Laurel first. As she’s losing her virginity. To the boy she used to babysit. Mousy, painfully shy and a penchant for wearing her dead mother’s dresses, she asks her male companion if their tryst makes them boyfriend and girlfriend. He laughs. She’s not joking. Unkempt, unconfident and underestimated, Laurel has settled for  helping her widowed father (John Carroll Lynch) with his painting-forgery business.

Audrey, meanwhile, exudes sexiness and self-assurance. Having fled the nest when their mother died, she has her own apartment, a job as a real estate broker selling “storybook houses,” and a sharp dress sense. It’s not hard to see why Laurel might want to switch places, a la Mary-Kate and Ashley in most of their films. A tragic car-crash becomes the perfect vehicle for this desire when the hospital confuses the twins and Laurel sets about adjusting to life as Audrey.

One of the reasons the film works despite this underlying implausibility (surely someone would realise?) is by acknowledging our doubts. When Laurel gets a haircut that exactly imitates Audrey’s wavy ombre do, Audrey’s reaction is believably aghast and irritated. Similarly, Laurel (as Audrey) is on the precipice of bean-spilling, but her family have nothing but put-downs and silence to offer about Laurel. Her stepmother even goes so far as to say ‘it’s better this way’. Though we might not agree with Laurel’s choice, her alternatives are slim.

Moving into her late sister’s apartment and taking over her job, Laurel covers up her odd behaviour and general lack of knowledge about her own life, by feigning post-traumatic amnesia. She soon discovers the flaws Audrey tried so hard to mask – an affair with an intense married man (Ron Livingston – his allure turned on full) and a feud with her next-door neighbour/tenant, whom she was about to evict – the awkward and roguishly charming Basel (Jake Johnson). Increasingly drawn to the latter, Laurel quickly finds herself in a pickle; falling in love with a man who is falling in love with her, as her twin.

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The screenplay contains contrivances that are to be expected when dealing with this kind of plot and director/writer Jenne LaMarque doesn’t entirely succeed in selling it. That being said, the screenplay exhibits some darkly comic and intelligent touches – Laurel attends a “Twins Without Twins” support group, a cover version of the Tootsie theme song plays during the end credits and as Laurel finally learns to be happy in her own skin, she quits art-imitation and starts to paint some originals.

theprettyone1That the film is so watchable is largely attributable to Kazan, who movingly conveys Laurel’s predicament and desperation to be more like Audrey. (Her wardrobe is also highly enviable). Also, praise-worthy are Johnson, of Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies and New Girl fame, putting in another relaxed, likeable and comedic performance, whose warmth and charm convince Laurel to confront her façade. And Lynch, the father who struggles to come to terms with the loss of his two daughters, and exhibiting genuine pathos as he does so.

Verdict: At times laboured and contrived, this otherwise cute film transforms a dark (and potentially sociopathic) premise into a charismatic and heartfelt story of self-discovery.

 

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