Identical twins are synecdoche for confusing identity. Especially when diving into territory of uniqueness plus one. Possessing a keen sensibility for dark horse narratives, Director Jenée LaMarque charms in her feature debut, The Pretty One, through relating daily minutia based on discomfort derived typically from lack of change. The unconventional premise is a melancholy tale told through the eyes of wallflower Laurel whose identical twin Audrey happens to be nothing like her, in both form and content. Laurel lives at home with their widowed dad falsifying famous artworks and habitually makes him breakfasts consisting of smashed raspberries on toast. Audrey is the name of the film, name of the game girl living in the big city with exciting prospects at a chic real estate gig. After coming back home for their shared birthday — ‘the pretty one’ is killed in a car crash promptly after coaxing her introverted genetic half into a makeover that has made the surviving twin physically indistinguishable. The internal makeover is up to Laurel and the process of finding that amidst grieving is the makeup of the story. Factor in a redefining transformation that includes impersonating her now deceased sister and it becomes a darkly comedic equation.
LaMarque punts on themes of loss and isolation with varying degrees of emotional quirks and perverse humor. The latter pops in intermittently in where the viewer is thrust into a pop art inspired reality where there exists twin support groups (“Twins Without Twins”) and POV fisheye shots through resident door peepholes. Zany undertones border on the absurd of the self-aware kind to make up for not trying to hide the familiar coming-of-age plot line with a big splash of love (of the indie variety in the form of shaggy, bearded Jake Johnson). Sharing a wall, Laurel immediately feels a connection with her new neighbor displaying the uninhibited and genial characteristics she lacks. Johnson of New Girl fame, once again demonstrating his ability to share chemistry with just about any actress, is charming as ever playing Basel, the literal guy next door. “Jake’s a charismatic guy — he’s really easygoing and really funny,” says LaMarque, confirming to America that underneath the actor’s veneer of charm is more charm. “Everyone fell in love with him on set.”
Noticeably apparent about The Pretty One is the seemingly collaborative vibe, which is confirmed by the first-time feature director. “There’s a lot of improvisation in the film and those are my favorite moments because it’s [what] adds the texture of real life to it.” LaMarque recalls filming the climactic scene of Laurel’s confession to her father Frank, played by John Carroll Lynch of Fargo fame. A towering man, Frank’s instinctive reaction is to lift Kazan’s character abruptly off her feet into a bear hug, carrying the load of grief and happiness in one physical sweep. The inspired moment was a detour from what was originally in the script that led Kazan’s body double to nearly collide her head with the ceiling during rehearsal. It was a happy result ultimately.
On exploring the universal difficulties of family dynamics in the film, LaMarque says with a laugh, “I wanted to tell a story true to life, in the sense that our relationships with family members are fraught with love and sadness, anger and hate.” She pulls a quote from ‘90s cult favorite, Stealing Beauty, starring Liv Tyler, as reference: “There is no love; there is only proof of love.” It’s taken originally from Pierre Reverdy, a twentieth-century French poet associated with Surrealism, whose themes on loneliness just so happen to generally reflect those seen in the movie. “I feel like that defines Frank and Laurel’s relationship where he did love her, but he didn’t show it. I was interested in the dynamic of a father learning about the mistakes that he had made and how a woman like Laurel would want to be pro-life because she felt like she wasn’t loved as her real self.” Fine-tuning the pace and tone on these delicate grey areas came down to making the emotional connections as true to life as possible: “These ideas sort of build on each other as you’re trying to shoot the story — trying to make it real and fit with elements of the story.”
Turning the topic to future projects: “There needs to be more content created for women that’s complex and I want to create roles like that for actresses out there,” LaMarque says. A comedic drama centered on a professional surrogate mother and the incensed relationships that ensue is on the radar for her next project. The Pretty One is strongest with capturing those dualities every person internalizes, with or without a twin, and those unique emotional contrasts are something to look forward to seeing.
In select theaters now.
Review by Sandy Chung. Follow her on Twitter @sndychng.