Delicate restraint

I'll let you know up front I like this movie. If that's all you needed to know, feel free to skip the rest of the review and see it or not based on your own preconceived notions about what it might be.

But if you'll indulge me, I'd like to go into the reasons I like this film.

From the top, we have a well-planned, imaginative use of cinematography, and a choice of film stock that brings out these subtle, moody colours which work absolutely wonderfully for the story. Some of the shots and cuts would easily stand out with any less care.

Crazy/Beautiful is pretty much Kirsten Dunst's first adult film. Okay, let me rephrase that... her first mature film. That still doesn't sound right. Yes, this is a gritty love story. Yes, we see an attractive, sensitive young actress in more of her altogether than we have so far in her career. If that's what it takes to get you to watch the film, then hey, I'll let you be surprised and be slowly overcome by the portrayals and emotions on screen.

The story itself is nothing all that new. Girl falls for boy, there's problems that arise from them being together. First the racial bit, with this white/hispanic romance, then the mental illness bit - the "crazy" so craftily embedded in the title. It's a bit like Drew Berrymore's Mad Love crossed with West Side Story (but no singing). To me, Crazy/Beautiful succeeds where Mad Love doesn't - they both try to get away with keeping their respective illnesses a secret until significantly through the movie. The script for Mad Love really pushes very hard on the topic and overdramatizes it, whereas Crazy/Beautiful takes the revelation as merely a plot point that the characters have to deal with, ushering in the third act. As for, the interracial aspects, they are also dealt with subtlety, because audiences already know what the standard opinions and reactions are going to be. The script lets us see people react out of character, rather than filling a defined role we're already used to seeing.

If you've read a lot of my reviews here, you've probably established that I do simply like Kirsten Dunst. I was impressed with her performance way back when Interview with the Vampire came out, and she's only improved since. True, there's been a spate of clean-cut good-girl high school movies from her of late, but I've always felt a certain depth in her portrayals, even when the script wasn't offering much. So I was very pleased to see her in the raw-around-the-edges, ambiguous Nicole. Her looks have been roughed up a bit, and her wardrobe made retro-80s-hip grungy, making her less traditionally attractive, but also activating an awareness of what it is about real people that is attractive. For the few scenes of sensuality in here, the change is a complete gain, because really, glamour is somewhat the antithesis of sex.

There are other people in the movie as well, lest I've given you the impression otherwise. Jay Hernandez is Carlos, the love interest, and has received most of the press attention for the movie. But all the major characters, and many of the supporting ones, have their moments where we know what their world really is. The script has to provide the places for that, but this ensemble follows through very well.

Plot follows from character here, and relationships between people are paramount for working it out. The script must be beautiful reading material. One particular bit I have to praise it for is the use of Spanish among the hispanic characters. It's never shied away from, and some characters only speak Spanish, but moving back and forth into English actually works. The script doesn't go out of the way to explain what was said (for those whose Spanish fails outside a Mexican restaurant), but gives us enough clues from context and dialog, so we don't have to work hard, and yet it all comes off as natural.

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