Zoe Kazan is an actress that draws me into watching a film and has since I saw her in Ruby Sparks, a films she wrote and starred in, and one I loved and have mentioned numerous times in various places as one of my favourite movies of the last half-decade. The Pretty One stars Kazan and is directed by Jenée LaMarque, who also wrote the film. A story that deals with loss, family and finding your true self, it also stars Jake Johnson (New Girl), another actor who I enjoy, especially when it comes to indie comedy roles (such as the enjoyable Drinking Buddies).
Kazan plays both Audrey and Laurel, identical twins who are living very different lives. Audrey is an independent, popular and pretty girl with a good job, her own apartment in the big city and a love-life. Laurel is the polar-opposite. She lives at home with her Dad (John Carroll Lynch) and his partner, and cooks for him, cleans and helps him paint copies of famous paintings to sell. She doesn’t have a love life, has very few friends, and has no individual style, wearing the clothes of her late mother and letting her hair grow long, almost as a comfort blanket to the world that she is afraid to step out into like her sister did. When Audrey invites Laurel to stay with her at her apartment in an attempt to help her move out of their parents’ home and make a new life, Laurel undergoes a makeover and has her hair cut just like Audrey. While on the way home from the makeover they get into a tragic car accident in which Audrey is killed and her body burned beyond recognition. Laurel wakes up in hospital with short-term amnesia and everyone believes she is Audrey and that Laurel was the one killed in the car accident. When her memory begins to come back, the overwhelming and saddening words from people who seem not to care that Laurel was the twin to pass-away causes Laurel to keep up the pretence that she is in fact Audrey. Moving to Audrey’s apartment, working at her job, and attempting to live life as her more-popular and accepted late sister, Laurel begins to fall for the tenant, Basel (Johnson) that her sister had not been kind to. The lie that Laurel is living begins to cause problems for her, and as her love for Basel grows she struggles with her decision about whether to come clean or keep up the charade.
The cast do a good job, and Kazan and Johnson are really charming and have a nice chemistry together. There’s also some familiar names here as secondary characters, such as Ron Livingston (Office Space) as the sleazy Charles, Danny Pudi (Community) as Dr. Rao, Frances Shaw (Blue Mountain State) as Claudia and others. It’s a story that is pretty damn sad, yet there is plenty of humour and good-naturedness to keep it light. There are some moving scenes here, particularly between Kazan and Carroll Lynch in which the daughter and father mourn their losses. I thought the whole cast did a good job, and Kazan was very good at playing two very different characters who shared the screen together in the first third of the film.
It is one of those independent drama comedies that I usually can identify as something I will enjoy, and I did enjoy this. It isn’t unpredictable, in fact it is I likely that by the half-way point you will know exactly where it is going to end up, but regardless of that it is a funny, touching and well-acted piece of work, and a solid feature-debut from LaMarque. It isn’t your typical rom-com, and it deals with loss and the importance of honesty and family as much as it does with love and sex, and that felt refreshing to me. It’s nice to see that beyond the mainstream there are romantic comedies with much more depth to them, films that might, by their promotional posters, make you think they are one thing, but when you watch them realise that they are much more.
Depending on your enjoyment with films of this ilk, I feel like this is one that will surprise people. I can see many giving it a miss because of what it appears it might be, but I was entertained and happy to see that the director/writer wanted to make something much more than a comedy film about a twin pretending to be her sister amidst scenes of hijinks. There is a reason for the deception, and the reason reveals itself, as the film goes on, to be very sad. A film with a depth that initially might not be predicted, The Pretty One is well worth checking out. Amiable, endearing, sad and amusing, it should not go into the box with the 2-Dimensional rom-com’s that will likely, and wrongly, be considered it’s sibling.