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Movie Review

The Exploding Girl

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The Exploding Girl
Indie down to its core, this dreary portrait of an epileptic 20-year-old college student at home in New York on spring break fails to engage on many levels. Largely because writer-director Bradley Rust Gray has decided to keep the audience at such a distance, literally, from his leads, we never have a chance to get involved in their lives, which is crucial for a small charactercentric story like this one.

The ever-promising Zoe Kazan is given her first shot at a leading role as Ivy, a pleasant and likable young woman visiting her roots and keeping an optimistic outlook on life, despite battling epilepsy. Part of the reason for her sunniness is the promise of a new romance with a guy named Greg back at school. Despite the illness, everything else in her life seems to be on an upswing. Early on she hooks up with her old high school friend Al (Mark Rendall), who finds he has no place to stay, so Ivy and her mom take him in.

As the 80-minute film meanders along, we learn little about these people. Instead we are forced to endure long stretches of silence or naturalistic dialogue in different locales in the city, including a lot of pretentious rooftop shots (apparently that's where people in Gray's universe like to hang out). What tension there is comes from the phone conversations Ivy has with the never-seen, only-heard Greg, who gently attempts to break up with her long-distance. This development strengthens her friendship with Al but also appears to trigger symptoms of her illness. When he gets stoned on weed at a party they attend, she recoils into her own measured world, but this scene is about it for excitement, folks.

Clearly, those who go to this flick on the basis of its title alone are in for severe disappointment. If this girl is "exploding," it's strictly internal. After dozing through a few minutes of Gray's endless, distant master shots, you begin to think blowing her up might not be such a bad idea after all. Truth is, a more accurate title might have been "The Boring Girl."

It's not Kazan's fault. She's lovely and has a fresh, easygoing style that seems effortless. Her restraint is just what Ivy is about, remaining stress-free in order to keep emotions in check and epileptic fits at bay. The problem is Gray's shooting style, purposely positioning his camera as far from the "action" as possible and going for a documentary look. Static, long-distance shots in the service of a bland screenplay are the order of the day, and although the running time is mercifully short, the film feels as long as "Lawrence of Arabia." Rendall is fine as far as his role allows, while Maryann Urbano has little to do as Ivy's mom. Eric Lin's camera work is nice, though, particularly when it's focused on pigeons.

Genre: Drama.
Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray.
Starring Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall, Maryann Urbano

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