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This is one of the nicest surprises out of this year's festival, in part because I hadn't heard a thing about it before flipping through this year's program. Zoe Kazan plays identical twins: Audrey is successful and confident, the "pretty one" of the title (which is to say, she bears a Kazan-friendly, bangs-heavy haircut), while Laurel is awkward and fidgety (which is to say, she lets her hair grow to unflattering lengths), still living at home and coping with the death of the twins' mother. Audrey comes home (from the never-named "city") for their joint birthday party, and then an accident, or series of accidents, allows them to switch places.
LaMarque's navigation of this plot turn is tricky: it's too weird for Parent Trap-y farce, but too grounded for Cronenbergian and/or Lynchian antics. But as Laurel adjusts to Audrey's life, the movie, too, finds its way. Laurel's version of Audrey takes a liking to Audrey's tenant Basel, and Johnson, playing more laid-back than in Safety Not Guaranteed or on New Girl, makes a charming rom-com lead, and Kazan is lovely as Laurel impersonating Audrey: sometimes awkward and stumbling, sometimes surprised by how her twin turns out to complete it. The movie becomes a funnier and more subtle rumination on identity than the showier high-concept of Kazan's Ruby Sparks.
I understand and even appreciate that it took me a little while to acclimate to The Pretty One because it's a pretty weird situation and a pretty weird movie (mostly in a good way). But at first, when the movie begins in the twins' podunk hometown, it lays the kitsch on thick: Laurel still lives in the childhood bedroom she used to share with Audrey, single "participant" ribbon hanging on her side of the wall, and dotes on her father (John Carroll Lynch), who makes his living reproducing famous paintings. Briefly, what turns out to be a sweet and unpredictable little movie feels off-puttingly cartoonish. I suppose the easy comparison would be festival sensation turned mid-aughts cultural touchstone Napoleon Dynamite, but that movie's comic-strip goofiness has always come off as weirdly authentic to me.
But so many indies strive to capture life outside of major cities and don't quite put it across. Another Tribeca selection, Bluebird, which my colleague Ryan Vlastelica will be covering in greater detail, gets a lot of texture from its wintry Maine setting, but as nicely observed as much of it is, the movie is often as reminiscent of other small-town indies as small-town life itself. In particular, it recalls David Gordon Green's Snow Angels, from the child-related tragedy to the romantic relationships mirroring each other across generations, right on down to the Chinese restaurant pointedly staffed only by white people. Another film, Adult World, about which more later this week, is set in and around Syracuse, much to the delight of this former upstate resident—but its underpopulated desolation feels low-budget rather than evocative. Maybe Napoleon Dynamite still resonates (!) for me because its surroundings feel of a piece with its point of view. The Pretty One's point of view, perhaps appropriately, is less dependent on a sense of place than a sense of self. The movie finds itself along with Laurel; it's almost more endearing for the parallel.
Screens tonight. Click here for more info.