What It Feels Like for “THE EXPLODING GIRL”: Movie Review
Initial press releases of Bradley Rust Gray’s second feature, “The Exploding Girl”, described the movie as “restrained and meditative”. That description, admittedly, made me just a bit wary. Too many indie films that aim for an intimate, character-based feel can often come across as static or “stagy”– lacking dynamicism and maybe appearing too much like a filmed play. I’ll agree that “The Exploding Girl” is restrained and meditative, but it’s also quite vibrant and magnetic at the same time. The film is propelled almost entirely by the performances of its two young, exciting stars: Zoe Kazan (“Revolutionary Road”, “It’s Complicated”) and Mark Rendell (“My One and Only”). Indeed, the movie has a simple story at heart: Ivy (Kazan), a college student, comes home to New York City from spring break. Pretty, intelligent, and grounded, Ivy has epilepsy but keeps her condition well-controlled. Through unexpected circumstances, her free-spirited best friend Al (Rendell)– also on spring break– winds up moving in with Ivy and her mother, taking residence on the couch. Like Ivy, he’s also bright and wide-eyed, with more of an unblemished view of the world than his gal pal. While home, Ivy is trying to connect with her college boyfriend– but despite the constant game of “phone tag”, she’s not able to do so. As the girl struggles to contact her evasive beau, she becomes much closer to Al, causing some conflicting feelings. To restate, the background story of “The Exploding Girl” is simple… but the emotions– specifically, Ivy’s– become quite complicated, especially when Al gets interested in a girl of his own.
As Ivy, Zoe Kazan is incredibly watchable in her first starring role. Despite her character’s maturity, her expressive eyes are still able to look at the world with some degree of awe. The actress expertly captures that difficult period that bridges teenager and adult (“adult-escence”, if you will…). Even when Ivy walks through a graffiti-scarred, rather dingy neighborhood at night, her persona– accented by the variegated outfits that her character prefers– shine like a lantern. Lanky and charismatic, with a thick head of hair that looks like it might snap the actor in half at his 28-inch waist, Mark Rendell’s Al is a fine match for Kazan’s Ivy. From their very first scene together, the two leads are in seemingly perfect sync. Intentionally or not, the director also places them largely in their own world. Ivy’s mother is only rarely seen in the film and seems emotionally distant when she does appear. Mark’s parents are never seen and barely mentioned. We don’t get even to meet Ivy’s boyfriend, despite his character’s pivotal role. In addition to excellent performances, “The Exploding Girl” is really bolstered by superb cinematography. Even native New Yorkers will admire how bright and colorful their city can look. The final scene, which ostensibly leaves Ivy and Al’s situation up for interpretation, is a truly provocative moment. It’s a testament to both the actors and to director Gray that the pair can deliver a symphony of emotions… without even saying a word.
“The Exploding Girl” opens on March 12th.