From the first moment we see her raggedly shorn locks, punky
wardrobe, and sense the carefree, brazenly sexual attitude behind it all,
in _crazy/beautiful_ it's clear that Kirsten Dunst is no longer the
little girl who first captured attention with her Golden Globe-nominated
turn in 1994's _Interview_with_the_Vampire_. However, the most striking
instance of growing up on display in John Stockwell's film is that of the
contemporary teen film.
Whereas most youth-aimed films are really about pushing a
soundtrack and a "hot" young star's image as they tell another tired tale
revolving around who gets to go to the big dance with whom, Stockwell
actually attempts to tell a character-driven story in _crazy/beautiful_.
Granted, this story isn't exactly anything new. Phil Hay and Matt
Manfredi's script centers around that old standby, a romance between two
opposites. On one end is Carlos Nuñez (Jay Hernandez), a bright student
from a rough L.A. neighborhood who takes a two-hour bus trip in each
direction every day to attend the posh Pacific High. On the other is
Nicole Oakley (Dunst), who lives in a large Pacific Palisades home with
her Congressman father (Bruce Davison) and his cold new wife (Lucinda
Jenney). The twist here is that the privileged white girl is the one
with delinquent tendencies and substance abuse problems, and the ethnic
guy from what would typically be "the wrong side of the tracks" is the
ambitious and responsible type.
Naturally, a deep emotional trauma is at the root of Nicole's
frequent misbehavior, and through her developing relationship with Carlos
(whom she meets cute on the beach as she does community service for a DUI
charge) she is forced to face her personal demons. Along the way, Carlos
himself also grows and develops into a more mature and independent
person. All of this could easily be the fodder for an afterschool
special, but Stockwell makes the material big screen-worthy by
underplaying the melodrama. Unlike most teen films, the pitch is a lot
more subdued and subtle, lending the picture a greater sense of reality.
But it's hard to imagine Stockwell being able to create that air
of authenticity without his stars. While her looks have changed with
age, Dunst's acting ability hasn't. She once again demonstrates her
versatility and depth with her nuanced portrayal of Nicole. Yes, the
character is yet another one of those bad girls with a heart of gold, but
where most actresses (let alone ones in her age range) can only nail one
side or the other, Dunst is not only believable when either vixenish or
vulnerable, she convinces that these are sides of the same person.
Charismatic newcomer Hernandez is a find, managing to exude Carlos'
goodness without being a bore. The pair's likability as individuals and
their honest and unadorned chemistry while together effortlessly generate
a rooting interest in their coupledom.
Given the formulaic through-line of its story right down to the
neatly cathartic resolution, _crazy/beautiful_ could certainly have used
more of the first half of its title. But in a climate where
teen-targeted entertainment is mostly concerned with attitude, the fact
that this simple story manages to generate a number of moments falling
under the latter quality alone makes the film worthwhile.