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Movie Reviews

Crazy/Beautiful  

Kirsten Dunst... ...Nicole Oakley
Jay Hernandez... ...Carlos Nunez
Bruce Davison... ...Tom Oakley
Lucinda Jenney... ...Courtney Oakley
Rolando Molina... ...Hector Nunez
Taryn Manning... ...Maddy
Joshua Feinman... ...Football Player
Keram Malicki-Sanchez... ...Foster

Directed by: John Stockwell
Written by: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teens, drug/alcohol content, sexuality and language
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Uncovering A Need For Acceptance

She is the seventeen-year-old troubled daughter of a wealthy liberal Congressman. He is a bright, focused, straight-A Latino student who begins each day with a two-hour bus commute from East L.A. to the prestigious high school in her exclusive suburb. They are immediately drawn to one another, as their contrasting backgrounds prove no match for their insatiable curiosity.

Upon first glance, "crazy/beautiful" seems to be a typical story of young love. The pieces are all in place: two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks, a good-natured but increasingly distant father unsure of how to reach out, and the family members and friends who express concern regarding the budding romance. However, the movie is much more observant than most. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi's screenplay doesn't make the two leads into a picture perfect couple kept apart by outside influences. Each character is saddled with flaws, but are also aware of their flaws, and that's what keeps them fenced in emotionally. The objections of those around them are a mere footnote when dealing with self-esteem issues.

The troubled teen's name is Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst) and she spends her school days anywhere but in school ... drinking, partying, and getting into all sorts of trouble. The quiet, handsome straight arrow Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez) first catches sight of her at the beach where her most recent bout of mischief has resulted in garbage-collecting community service. An attraction immediately exists, but is approached a bit more cautiously by Carlos. "Just don't play me, alright?" he asks. She assures him, but we wonder if her interest is bred from her rebellious attitude. Whether it is or it isn't at first, it nonetheless transforms into the kind of love that eventually forces those involved to reevaluate who they are, who they can be, what they owe to the world around them, and perhaps most importantly, what they owe to themselves.

The least flawed of the characters is Carlos, and the story is viewed from his perspective. The remaining characters start out as enigmas, and steadily materialize as the young honor student learns more about them. We know Nicole has a strained relationship with her father (Bruce Davison, in a marvelously subtle and complex performance), but when we first see him, we do so through Carlos' eyes. He's a good man. Stern, but good. He doesn't house an immediate suspicion of his daughter's new boyfriend, although he does make an initial blunder in assuming he's the housekeeper's nephew. Upon learning of Carlos' dream of becoming a military pilot, he offers to assist. Carlos is in the position of seeing the good in both daughter and father, and is essentially the catalyst that helps bring the two together.

Kirsten Dunst made a huge splash onto the acting scene at the age of eleven playing a pubescent creature of the night in Neil Jordan's "Interview With a Vampire". Her career has since included a wide range of movies, including "Little Women", "The Virgin Suicides" and "Bring It On". This could be her most challenging role to date, as she is not simply playing a distraught teen, but one who is viewed in completely different lights by different people. Carlos is captivated by her vitality and beauty while her father is confused and heartbroken by her actions. Dunst skillfully creates a character searching for her own self-worth through the prism of those who love her. Fairly new to acting, Jay Hernandez displays a delicate mixture of caution and curiosity. And Bruce Davison masters the complexities of the father, showing him as a political pugilist whose standards of excellence make him a powerful figure in his line of work, but sadly alienate those who rely on him for unconditional love. Tragedy hits a high note when he tells Carlos to avoid his daughter not for her sake, but for his.

The director is John Stockwell, a former actor (he was the shaken Navy pilot Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards had to help land at the opening of "Top Gun") who douses his films in vats of moral complexity. His behind the camera forays include extensive work for HBO, from writing the docudrama "Breast Men" about the rise and fall of the inventors of silicone breast implants to directing "Cheaters", the story of a real-life Chicago english teacher who persuaded his students to cheat in the 1995 Illinois Academic Decathlon. Here, he allows his story to learn about the characters right along with the audience. The movie's main virtue is that it observes the situations and comes to its own understanding, and refuses to dictate the message.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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