Actress Zoe Kazan (The Exploding Girl, Ruby Sparks) shines in a dual role as twin sisters in Jenée LaMarque's debut feature The Pretty One, receiving its world premiere at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Unfortunately, the film Kazan is in (whose screenplay was on the 2011 Black List) is pretty much a tonal mess, veering so wildly from offbeat comedy to melodramatic intensity - sometimes even within the same scene - that the whole endeavor is ultimately a letdown.
Kazan plays twin sisters Laurel and Audrey whose personalities and demeanor are polar opposites. Audrey is the titular "pretty one," an outgoing and stylish young woman with a high-powered job selling boutique real estate properties. Laurel, on the other hand is a dowdy, wallflower type who is much more withdrawn, and still remains in her childhood home, living with her father (John Carroll Lynch) and still unable to get over her mother's death. We are first introduced to Laurel as she is belatedly losing her virginity to a younger man that she used to babysit when he as a child. Laurel's childlike qualities are reinforced by her bedroom décor, which remains unchanged from when she was a little girl. The twin beds in the room have signs with the girls' names on their headboards; Laurel is deflowered on one of these beds.
Audrey returns to her suburban home on the occasion of the twins' birthday, attending the birthday party being held for them. When the outraged mother of the young man Laurel slept with breaks up their party, Audrey declares that she will liberate Laurel from this environment that she sees as restraining her sister from fully growing up and bring her to live with her in the city. Audrey takes Laurel to a salon for a makeover where, to Audrey's dismay, Laurel has herself made up to look exactly like Audrey.
The central plot is set into motion when a car accident kills Audrey and Laurel is mistaken for Audrey by her family when she comes to in the hospital. Laurel, suffering short-term amnesia after the accident, is at first unsure of who she is, but when she regains her memory, she doesn't tell her family about this, especially after she begins to feel she was less loved than Audrey was. Laurel begins to assume Audrey's identity, returning to the home and job Audrey left behind, and encountering the people in Audrey's life. These include Charles (Ron Livingston), a married man with whom Audrey was having an affair, and Basel (Jake Johnson), Audrey's neighbor and tenant in the duplex Audrey lived in. Basel is somewhat baffled by Audrey's perceived personality change; Audrey was apparently very mean to him and was planning to evict him to have Laurel live there. Laurel becomes attracted to Basel and begins a relationship with him, all the while shouldering the burden of the deception she must keep up. At the same time, she gains a sense of liberation from freeing herself from her old life and exploring aspects of herself that she has long kept under wraps.
The main reason to see The Pretty One is Zoe Kazan's terrific performance in her dual role, which actually becomes a triple one, as her character experiences a psychological mind meld as she plays the role of her deceased twin, eventually fusing the two personalities into a new one. It's a tricky performance that Kazan very deftly pulls off. Jake Johnson, best known for his role in the sitcom "The New Girl," is also very good as Laurel's love interest, nicely conveying his character's sardonic stance. However, LaMarque's lack of control over her film's tone and an unfortunate excess of contrived quirk prevents the film from being as successful an enterprise as it could have been.
The Pretty One has one more screening on April 25, 9pm. For more information, visit the Tribeca Film Festival's website
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