Having missed this film at last year’s TIFF, I was excited when it finally came out in theatres. Mostly because of the subject matter (uncovering whether it was a female companion piece to the successful Call Me By Your Name) and the fact that actress Evan Rachel Wood was in it. From the time I saw her in the film Thirteen back in 2003 her choices or career path has been one that has been interesting to say the least. From her work on television like Westworld, Mildred Pierce and True Blood to her films like The Wrestler, Running with Scissors and The Ides of March she has always defied labels and being boxed in. She just acts rather than seeks celebrity, which I find very refreshing. Brave and focused on the craft of storytelling has always been a winning combination in my books.
The enigmatic Lauren (Evan Rachel Wood) works for her father (Denis O’Hare – Dallas Buyers Club, Milk) at his cleaning company. Her personal life does not seem as clean as the houses she works on. There is some allusion to her getting in trouble for stalking a woman, she drinks too much and we know she engages in rough sex with random men. Watching her for a while you see that her life is a mess and she self sabotages a lot via her behaviour. Her father seems always on edge about his daughter and waiting for the inevitable misstep.
While on the job one day, Lauren meets Nancy (Maxim Roy – from television’s 19-2) and, more importantly, her 16-year-old daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone – Weirdos, The Space Between). Eva and her mother are going through a rough patch. They are not connecting on any level and so when this cool older woman comes into Eva’s life a whole new world of possibilities opens up for her.
Both see something in the other that they find attractive and when Eva and her mother have a big fight about moving in with her mother’s latest boyfriend, Lauren moves in and convinces Eva to run away with her. Secretly they begin living together. What starts out as friendship slowly (mostly spurred on by Lauren) turns into a sexual relationship. That precarious situation becomes even more so when Lauren’s mental instability surfaces more often.
I was expecting to be moved by the film, but instead I found myself often uncomfortable. Icky. Yes, the lead character is not very likeable (despite the fact that you learn all that she went through which goes a long way towards explaining her behaviour). We do find out why she is the way she is. Too late, though. Our mistrust and distaste for Lauren is already so built up that there is no coming back from it. The screenplay and the way the directors have shot the film don’t allow for that. Really the story is a problem. There is not tons of story here and what there is seems like stuff we have seen a million times before.
Plus the fact that we get everything from Lauren’s perspective leaves no room or little room for Eva’s story. Which when you think about it is equally interesting as she is a teenager who finds herself loving and hating an older woman. Plus the types of emotions and behaviours she is feeling and witnessing that her young mind is not ready for. Loads of story to mine there that was pretty much completely ignored.
What is most interesting for me about the film is that the two directors/screenwriters, Carlos and Jason Sanchez (first film for both), are photographers and part of my misgivings about the film is the way it looks. It just has that cheap or stilted Canadian feel to it. Now, don’t start writing me saying that I am a self-loathing Canadian jealous of American production values (read money). That is not what I mean. I mean that there is a certain look to Canadian films. Yes, part of it is money (or lack thereof), but a bigger facet is how we tend to frame shots. In this case, that kind of gritty, dark, Indie look almost felt forced to me. I wanted more lighting not to lighten up the story rather I wanted to see things better.
That being said the reason to see this film is Evan Rachel Wood’s performance. She is consistently great, brave and scary. Fully committed to the role of a woman who not many will walk away from Allure feeling sorry for (though we really should) is a cool thing. You cannot take your eyes off of Wood’s Lauren, but mostly because you think she might suffer a huge melt down at any point.