2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Breakups cause normally rational people to behave incredibly irrationally. Someone completely logical might act in a way that’s irresponsible, even self-destructive; heartbreak can do that. Choices relating to love lost reside at the core of “Clementine,” a drama about the roads one takes in order to move to the next stage in life. It can be a bumpy ride, yet with strong acting and a perceptive screenplay, it’s a trip worth embarking on.
Sharing a number of elements with the stunning success of “Call Me By Your Name,” “Clementine” doesn’t sugarcoat how complicated it is to come into one’s own. Both central characters remain somewhat unknowable, by design, which limits the emotional toll the film can take. At the same time, the movie never goes in any cliched directions, nor does it spare the feelings of its main characters. What happens is, for better or worse, largely rooted in painful reality.
Karen (Otmara Marrero) is in the throes of depression and heartbreak, dealing poorly with the end of her relationship with an older woman. In an act of rebellion, Karen breaks into the lake house of her ex-lover, hiding out to lick her wounds. There, she finds not just solitude, but an intriguing young woman in Lana (Sydney Sweeney). Lana claims to be older than she looks, but they form a quick bond. Karen is initially suspicious of why Lana is so infatuated with her, but those walls come down before long. After being in the shadow of her ex, Karen finds something powerful about Lana looking up at her.
As they grow closer, questions about Lana begin to prod Karen’s mind. Especially as their flirtations move towards consummation, she wonders who this girl is not just how old she really is, but what’s going on in her mind. The answers she finds are not the ones she expected, provoking unexpected responses in herself as well. Suffice to say, both women will end in places notably different from where they began.
Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney compliment each other nicely in “Clementine.” Marrero’s Karen and Sweeney’s Lana are both broken, albeit in different ways. This comes out in actions that aren’t always easy to watch, yet are consistent with the characters. The former is struggling to move on, while the latter seeking escape from an unpalatable situation. They contribute lived in and quiet turns, while Will Brittain appears in a small supporting role. But this is all about Marrero and Sweeney.
Filmmaker Lara Gallagher opts for complexity over simplicity at all turns. Nothing is black and white here, reveling in the shades of grey that are transgressions within heartbreak, infatuation, and recovery. Gallagher’s direction hovers on the two and their environment often, highlighting the isolation that encapsulates their current lives. As for her screenplay, it only finds one misstep, in cutting off the narrative in the third act just as it’s reaching a boiling point. The movie stops as opposed to ends, which is a choice that can be argued either way. For this film, it prevents a sense of closure, though that’s somewhat the point she’s trying to get across.
“Clementine” will undoubtedly draw comparisons to “Call Me By Your Name” when it eventually hits theaters. The presence of fruit, the age gap in the central romance, and the reflective milieu all lend to the comparison. But these are different films. While not on the Oscar level of the latter, the former represents a solid Tribeca selection, one with a chance to capture an audience once it bags distribution.