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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Crazy/Beautiful

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez
Director: John Stockwell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Bruce Davison, Lucinda Jenney, Taryn Manning, Keram Malicki-Sanchez

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

"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

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