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Review: King Kelly (2012)

King Kelly (2012)

Directed by: Andrew Neel

Premise: A pseudo-documentary in which an aspiring internet porn star (Louisa Krause) documents her Fourth of July weekend. Her on-again-off-again boyfriend reclaims his car and with it the controlled substances that she has stored in the trunk. Kelly and her friend (Libby Woodbridge) attempt to track down the car and get into misadventures.

What Works: King Kelly is an audacious satire of contemporary culture. It is confrontational and takes risks but the filmmakers have made it so well and with such a careful and crafty manipulation of tone and expectations that the risks payoff in the end. King Kelly is entirely shot on handheld devices, making it yet another entry in the pseudo-documentary trend, but King Kelly is distinguished because the camera work becomes an extension of the characters. In many pseudo-documentaries the camera operator is usually a non-character but in King Kelly the lead and her friends turn the cameras on themselves and manipulate them in such a way that the form and content of the movie characterizes them. As such, the pseudo-documentary form becomes the perfect style for the subject and themes of the movie. King Kelly is an unsparing satirical attack on the narcissism of contemporary culture and it is the cinematic equivalent of the novels of Blank Generation writers like Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction. The title character, played by Louisa Krause, is a spoiled brat whose entire sense of self and of the world is based on superficial obsessions. She has no impulse control and documents every moment of her life, no matter how trivial, and so the scenarios in the movie often recall the worst of reality television and online videos. The filmmakers of King Kelly utilize the aesthetics of web videos and homemade pornography, which give this film a sense of authenticity, and at first the movie plays like a teen sex comedy such as Project X; the film has the same prurient allure and equivalent characters. But the filmmakers of King Kelly gradually shift their tone and the film becomes an indictment of the values of that kind of video and the people behind them. This is done by breaking down the barrier that mass communication creates between the performer and the audience. King Kelly is partly about the way we transmit ourselves through media and the identities we assume in different circumstances. In a mode similar to Easy-A, King Kelly shows how the social masks people wear have a way of becoming reality. By the time King Kelly get to its conclusion, the filmmakers manage to pull the rug out from under the audience and reverse the expectations that these films usually fulfill.

What Doesn’t: King Kelly is not a movie to be viewed in the way that mainstream films are usually enjoyed. The filmmakers deliberately create stupid and unlikable characters in order to ridicule them and critique their values. The movie has a punishing quality that would come across as mean spirited if the characters weren’t so reprehensible. This is a satire but it isn’t funny satire like This is Spinal Tap; King Kelly is more akin to Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, and especially American Psycho. As such, this is less a movie to be enjoyed as entertainment and much more a film to be understood as a cultural artifact. It is in that sense an art film and its potential audience is going to be limited to that crowd. Even with that understanding, King Kelly has short comings. The movie sags in the middle as Kelly and her friend attend a party but not much happens there. That absence of purpose may be part of the point but it seems a waste of screen time.

Bottom Line: King Kelly is not a masterpiece but it is an interesting, bold, and a potentially important movie of this particular time. It’s more of an art film than a sex comedy and viewers should realize that going in but there is enough about it that is innovative and crafty that makes it a fascinating film to watch. 

Episode: #420 (December 23, 2012)