Directed by: Jenée LaMarque
Premise: A homely young woman (Zoe Kazan) loses her metropolitan twin sister in a car accident. She assumes her sister’s identity and must choose between living someone else’s life and exposing herself as a fraud.
What Works: The Pretty One is a small but impactful film, and it matches a novel premise with some very strong performances. The film is led by Zoe Kazan in dual roles as twin sisters Laurel and Audrey. As Laurel, Kazan presents herself as a humble and sheltered character. She’s a woman caught in a rut, having stayed at home to act as caretaker for her father following the death of her mother. Laurel is naïve but not stupid and Zoe Kazan captures the tension between her innocence and her desire. As Audrey, Kazan is able to play another character who has come from the same background and shared some of the same experiences and yet is a distinctly different person because of the choices that she has made. Although Audrey is eliminated from the story early on, Zoe Kazan’s dual performances are very impressive and she is able to make each of the roles distinct while maintaining the illusion that these women share a sisterly bond. After her sister’s death, Laurel has a breakthrough in which she realizes that her life has thus far been unlived, especially in comparison to her late sister. Unknown to anyone else, Laurel adopts Audrey’s identity and attempts to insert herself into her sister’s life. The filmmakers present this in a mostly credible way; there are unspoken logical flaws but the movie is so engaging that it’s able to overcome them. The Pretty One is about the search for identity and the attempt of a young woman to discover what she wants from her life. That theme is dealt with very well as she finds out that the sister she idolized was not living such an ideal life and that the values and friendships that Audrey had may not be the right fit for Laurel. Among those differences in taste are the men in her sister’s life, primarily a white collar married man who Audrey was seeing (Ron Livingston) and her scruffy tenant who she was at odds with (Jake Johnson). Ron Livingston’s character is quickly established as unfit for Laurel but she and Jake Johnson’s character strike up a romance. Watching Laurel and her new boyfriend hit it off is very sweet to watch and whatever the other shortcomings of The Pretty One it largely succeeds because of the humanity of its characters. The romantic subplot of this movie succeeds where so many other movie romances fail because the characters are likeable and Kazan and Johnson are the kind of on-screen couple that viewers will want to see live happily ever after.
What Doesn’t: The story of The Pretty One follows a standard romantic formula. This is a little-white-lie narrative, in which the protagonist achieves fortune through deceit and it’s only a matter of time before guilt and circumstances force the truth to the surface. That makes The Pretty One a predictable story; it’s obvious where this is going and there are few surprises in the course of the plot. The movie is also dramatically lopsided. Stories generally need to escalate and the drama of the second half should be heavier and more intense than the first half. The Pretty One begins with the death of a sibling and the second half of the movie is never able to match the impact of that loss. Part of the problem is that the consequences of the lie are not very significant. Zoe Kazan’s character does not end up with very much egg on her face and it does not take much effort to scrape it off. The film also suffers from one minor technical glitch. After the accident the surviving sister has a scar on the side of her face. The makeup effect is unconvincing and distracting, although it disappears after a time.
DVD extras: Featurette and trailers.
Bottom Line: Although The Pretty One has a predictable story, the movie succeeds because its filmmakers give that story a fair amount of dramatic weight and create characters that are watchable and engaging. This is a low budget picture that may go by unnoticed but it deserves to be seen.
Episode: #499 (July 13, 2014)