"crazy/beautiful" suffers from the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't
syndrome. After a spate of flighty, cookie-cutter teen films, the
romantic drama addresses alcoholism and parental loss along with its
love story. But rather than applaud the production, early reviews have
dismissed it as an overblown "Afterschool Special." Even worse, in the
wake of Federal Trade Commission hearings that blasted the industry for
marketing violent and sexual movies to young people, the studio got a
case of the heebie-jeebies and forced director John Stockwell to
re-shoot scenes and cut footage to "tone things down." Needless to say,
the filmmaker was frustrated. "We were trying to make a cautionary
tale," he told Newsweek, "and we couldn't show the behavior we were
trying to caution people away from."
Regardless, the film works, thanks to exceptional performances from its
lead players and a script determined to transcend stereotypes.
"crazy/beautiful" is quality fare, good enough that I half-expected the
Summer Movie Crap Police to walk into the press screening and confiscate
the print for "failure to incorporate explosions and poop jokes."
Set in Pacific Palisades, Calif., the story follows the burgeoning
relationship between two teens. Every morning and evening, Carlos Nunez
(Jay Hernandez) takes a two-hour bus ride in order to attend Pacific
High School. An honor student and star athlete, Carlos is responsible,
modest and focused as he works on securing a place in the Naval Academy.
All is well until he meets Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst), the daughter
of a rich congressman (Bruce Davison). Nicole is a drunk apparently
hell-bent on self-destruction. Carlos is smart enough to recognize the
danger in getting involved with her, but he is only human and she has
the greatest smile. Plus, as her father notes, she has a real knack for
drawing others into her downward spiral.
As with "Save the Last Dance," "crazy/beautiful" (God, how I hate
lower-case titles) takes situations that look stale on paper and makes
them seem fresh. While noting the racial and social differences between
the kids, the screenplay dances around most of the clichés (there are
still several MTV moments, though). The filmmakers make a point to give
characters that crucial extra bit of shading that turns them into
individuals instead of stereotypes and the actors take it from there.
Cute-as-a-button Dunst forces the viewer to share the pain beneath
Nicole's behavior. She is credible enough that when Dad urges Carlos to
get away from her before she drags him down, I hoped the boy would
listen. As Carlos, Hernandez is a revelation. Hunky without looking like
the product of a Hollywood design team, the young man can really act; we
will see a lot of this guy in the future.
Aside from its title, the biggest problem with "crazy/beautiful" is its
ending, which wraps everything up too fast and too tidy. After carefully
presenting credible characters and situations, the conclusion feels
rushed and lazy. Still, this is the kind of film that deserves accolades
from critics instead of cheap shots. "Afterschool Special" my ass -
"crazy/beautiful" is the real deal.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott