The Pretty One (★★★½)

pretty_oneThe sometimes comedically tinged drama that is The Pretty One had a lot of ways in which it could have turned out pretty poorly. It’s got a rather high concept of sorts that requires top notch execution and a dedicated lead performance, and that’s at the very least. Luckily, writer/director Jenée LaMarque was able to get Zoe Kazan in the main role(s), and she knocks this one completely out of the park (no surprise considering her talents, but still).Kazan owns the screen playing twins with incredibly different personalities, so much so that they’re always two separate characters to the audience, even during the many moments in the first act where they share the screen. LaMarque gets one of Kazan’s three best performances to date in my mind, and that goes along with a strong supporting performance from Jake Johnson as well. By carefully balancing tragedy and lighthearted identity issues, The Pretty One managed to be the best thing that I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival last year (not counting Before Midnight, even though that screening as well, since I had already seen that one back at the Sundance Film Festival a few months prior), and not by a little either. Kazan is worth the price of admission alone, but the movie is very good even without her. She just manages to elevate it to something nearly touching greatness. Even a year later here in 2014, this is a potential dark horse awards contender from this early part of the year, in my eyes at least. Kazan deserves some recognition for this work.

Despite being twins, Laurel (Kazan) and Audrey (Kazan as well) couldn’t be less alike. Laurel is shy, withdrawn, and awkward, while Audrey is bubbly, outgoing, and possesses a confident sexiness in the way she carries herself. The former still lives at home, while the latter has escaped to an exciting life on her own. Laurel mostly takes care of their dad Frank (John Carroll Lynch), but when we first meet her she’s preparing for her birthday party. Audrey is home for the occasion, and they clearly enjoy spending this time together, as it’s become more infrequent over the years. Audrey plans on taking Laurel to live with her in order to jumpstart her life, but first she’s taking her for a makeover, which results in the two of them looking even more alike. On the ride home however, there’s a massive car accident and Audrey is killed instantly. Laurel wakes up in the hospital, but finds that everyone believes that she’s actually Audrey and that Laurel was the one who was killed. When she sees how everyone is almost relieved that Audrey is alive, Laurel decides to forego telling anyone and sets off to be “Audrey”. She moves into her place, meets her pseudo boyfriend Charles (Ron Livingston), and the sweet neighbor Basel (Johnson) that her sister was always mean to previously. From here on, Laurel finds herself merging her own personality with that of her sister, in essence forming the person she actually wants to be. The second half of the movie is actually very sweet and manages to continuously improve on the already promising first half.

large_the_pretty_one_pubsI really can’t say enough about Zoe Kazan here and the work that she turns in. She effortlessly portrays both the flower child that is Laurel and the hip city girl that is Audrey. They never ever seem like anything other than completely individual roles, and that’s a testament to Kazan. So far, this is the best performance by an actress that I’ve seen in 2014, even if technically I first saw it in 2013. I don’t know what kind of a realistic chance she and the flick will get from voters come the fall and winter, but Kazan deserves Oscar consideration folks. She’s due at this point, at least to me. Jake Johnson and her have a great chemistry, and while he’s initially somewhat comic relief, his role grows quite a bit and becomes something much more than that. He’s an asset in any film, and especially one of this ilk. John Carroll Lynch makes the most of his screen time, and Ron Livingston more or less is cameoing here, but he manages to make his role not seem completely perfunctory. Supporting players also include Sterling Beaumon and Frances Shaw, among others, but Kazan steals the movie with absolute ease.

Jenée LaMarque is making her filmmaking debut here, but she does quite an impressive job, so you’d never know. Her style isn’t showy in any overt way, but her direction is supremely confident, as is her writing as well. The first act of the movie runs the risk of being too bumpy for some (though not me), but things settle in quickly and become engrossing without much delay. LaMarque is able to seamlessly make use of Kazan in both roles, and you never once get suckered into looking for a visual trick. You just watch and enjoy what’s unspooling in front of you. One or two moments in the film come close to contrivances, but it’s an original enough handling of the high concept premise that things never get to that point. Without Kazan, this would still be a solid movie, but by getting this performance (or should I say performances) out of her, LaMarque has something truly special on her hands here with The Pretty One.

I’m all in on The Pretty One folks, which I think is easily the best film of 2014 so far. Zoe Kazan is completely nomination worthy here and everyone else does their jobs very well. The premise is executed quite well and things wrap up in an incredibly satisfying but not telegraphed way. This is one not to miss ladies and gents…it’s well worth your time.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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