USA (95 mi) 2011 ‘Scope d: Derick Martini Official Trailer
You may not want to hear things that make you uncomfortable. But if you just allow girls to be more than one thing, not just virgins, not just whores, not just princesses, not just basket-cases, not just hot chicks, if you just allow us to be, say, human…you might just learn something. —Andrea Portes (author of Hick)
Rarely has a film with a cast this good sputtered so badly, where one can only place blame with the director, whose previous film LYMELIFE (2009) was another dialog driven work aided by excellent performances. Adapted by the author, Andrea Portes, from her first novel, there’s plenty of sharp dialog here written from a teen perspective, though it’s undermined by the crudeness of the characters and much of what was probably meant for humor gets lost in a whirlwind of white trash caricatures that thrive on the worst of human nature. Ultimately this retreats into a horribly misguided and ugly mess, where were it not for the stars, this film should never have been released. What was probably imagined as a kind of fatal attraction simply never gets started in this amour fou. At the center of this storm is Chloë Grace Moretz, from HUGO (2011), LET ME IN (2009) and KICK-ASS (2009), an adorable, somewhat pouty young actress who has her work cut out for her, as she’s literally in every shot, also providing an inner voiceover narration and personal drawings as well, all offering insight into her thirteen-year old soul which is just getting started in life. Moretz, herself, is charming, but no one else is, so she’s left on her own offering a spirited performace that drifts through a wasteland of aimlessness. The child of two barnstorming drunks, Juliette Lewis and Anson Mount, both inseparable, locked in a tortured marriage, spending their lives arguing, getting wasted and having sex, while Luli (Moretz) survives the chaos existing on small fantasies and macaroni and cheese while drawing colorful pictures of a better life somewhere else, thinking anywhere is better than the dead-end life of rural Nebraska. It doesn’t take much prodding for her to head for the open road the day after her 13th birthday, carrying with her a Smith and Wesson .45 given to her by her uncle. Known for her flippant attitude and fast mouth, she’s something of a smart aleck who has survived by being a bigger pain in the ass than those deadbeats and losers around her, creating needed space for herself where she can be on her own.
Heading for Las Vegas, she may as well be heading for Nome, Alaska, as she never gets very far, finding life on the road filled with despicable characters all pretending to be on her side. Putting up a strong front, she encounters a gimp-legged cowboy named Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), whose pathetic attempts at country charm only provoke crude descriptions of what she plainly thinks of him, expressed in a firebrand of foul mouthed invectives, where she’d rather walk than spend another minute with this loser, so she exits gracelessly. Not to be deterred, she manages to get a ride with Glenda (Blake Lively), played as a red-haired coke sniffer whose idea of petty cash is whatever she can steal from the next cash register. Using Luli as bait, the plan works perfectly, only the store clerk drops dead on the spot when Luli goes into her pretend seizure routine, meant only as a distraction, but apparently it was too much. Glenda takes Luli under her wing, arriving soon enough at the home of a friend, an upscale Texas rancher, Lloyd (Ray McKinnon), a mean and quick-tempered lowlife who gets off degrading and humiliating others. But it’s here that she meets Eddie again, as he’s working for Lloyd, where one might think fate is bringing them back together. But they get along no better this time than they did before, still the same nervous lout he was in the beginning, though here he displays even creepier motives, cowardly using Luli as an enticement to settle a losing bet in a pool hall, and then when she’s half raped, he barges in like a bat out of hell to supposedly rescue her. Despite all attempts to establish some chemistry between them, Eddie is too far off his rocker to be of any interest to anyone. When he gets all liquored up, full of himself with his newly won prize, ready to reap the reward in some cheap motel for rescuing the fair damsel in distress, the story only gets more wretched, though there is an all too brief reprise with Rory Culkin that allows Luli to glow before she gets sucked into the darkness.
What’s particularly distressing here is how the dark themes that inspired the book are treated with such a clumsy and heavy-handed manner here, where the story escalates into predictably unsavory territory without any of Luli’s spunk and personal flair for self-preservation that opened the film. Despite more degrading horrors that lie in store for her, don’t think for a minute that she is beaten down or defeated, but the tone of the film fails to register with her interior moods and growing sense of independence, and instead uses stale and typically predictable country ballads and Dylan anthems that she probably never heard to express open road themes. But despite being a road journey where the unknown lies around every bend, this film is terribly out of synch and dwells far too long on the ugly and awkwardly uncomfortable moments of a sick and twisted man’s rape fantasies. This is as far removed from her drawings and voiceover narration as you can get, and the director does nothing to link or connect these polar opposites. Luli is seen from the outset as a young girl that rails with a sense of personal pride and growing sense of independence, funny, always curious, with a keen intelligence, yet remains fragile and unsure of herself in this godforsaken world, needing love and guidance and something that she can hold on to, but this director has all but abandoned her perky wit and humor and instead allows Eddie’s disgustingly sick mentality to dominate and destroy the picture. Even if little is graphically shown, nothing good can come from what the director reveals. The headstrong and precocious girl with the snarky tone, she’s worth spending time with, her wounded life is worth exploring, not the psychopath that probably belongs in another movie who unfortunately takes center stage. Initially Colin Farrell (as Eddie) and Kirsten Dunst (as Glenda) were slated to make the film, and perhaps things might have been different, but this is a film unworthy of the performance Moretz gives, that instead feels dirty and contaminated.