Bringing maturity into focus


Directed by John Stockwell

(Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez, Bruce Davison, Taryn Manning)

Rated: PG13

In modern teen romance dramas, maturity is a difficult find, not only in the subject matter, but in the style of filmmaking as well. This year has seen MTV’s release of Save the Last Dance, high on undeveloped characters and an immature style to suit, shortcutting audiences to a level equal to that of a junior high hallway romance. Touchstone Pictures’ new release crazy/beautiful is focused with a certain maturity that encourages the latter half of being a “young adult.”

crazy/beautiful is the story of spoiled suburban girl Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst), the wild child of a U.S. Congressman (Bruce Davison). In an act of rebellion, she reaches out to play straight-A student Carlos Nuñez (Jay Hernandez), who rides a bus two hours each way from East L.A. just to attend the prestigious high school in the Pacific Palisades, which Nicole attends as well. Her act of defiance fails when she begins to fall in love.

Director John Stockwell handles this overdone formula with a focus that gives the characters, emotion, style and subject matter a certain credibility not seen in other teen romance dramas.

It is this same mature focus that creates a diversion in Stockwell’s style. With so much of his attention on the love between Carlos and Nicole, Stockwell distances himself from the working aspects, letting pertinent issues merely touched upon fade away.

Of these, a high tension scene of misunderstood race relations develops when Carlos’ white jock schoolmates try to interchange with his Latino friends. The ignorance displayed in addressing the Latino culture creates enough emotion to flat-out piss you off but goes no further than just this one scene, neither expounded upon, nor resolved.

The second of these perks is relative screen newcomer Taryn Manning as Maddy, Nicole’s partner-in-crime and best friend. Manning’s innocent look provides the perfect cover for the sharp-tongued, sharp-dressed social injustice that she portrays as Maddy, stealing every moment in which she graces the celluloid. The “three’s company” rule soon takes form and Maddy is given the cold shoulder by the lovestruck Nicole, left obsolete for the last half of the film.

Where Maddy goes, one can only wonder. Stockwell’s focus keeps his characters and subjects serious, but in style, he tends to forget where he is going with it all.

–Michael Goller