If “charming” were a category at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, “The Pretty One” would be at the top of that list. The fact that the film could attain that term after overcoming an early, tragic event vital to the film’s plot is a testament to the performances within. Any one genre is difficult to explore but “The Pretty One” manages to incorporate several. According to the film’s director, AFI graduate Jenee LaMarque, who preceded her feature at Tribeca with a short film at Sundance, the balance of dark comedy, romance with elements of film noir were brought out when she wrote the script. Proof of that being the film is shot with a unique style not consistent with the usual clichés found in those genres.
The film focuses on two twins, played to opposite ends of perfection by Zoe Kazan. Laurel, a shy artist who still lives with her father and Audrey, an extroverted real estate agent who moved to the big city in search of a better life. In fact, the opening shot establishes LaMarque’s creativity by providing a very visual image that highlights their biggest difference in a way which both gets a laugh and plays prominently to the film’s storyline. After a car accident takes Audrey’s life, Laurel decides to take her place believing it will be her ticket out of the sheltered existence of taking care of her father Frank, played John Caroll Lynch, since her mother died. Of course along the way she gets more than expected for by awkwardly dealing with Audrey’s smarmy boyfriend Charles, played by Ron Livingston, best friend Claudia (Frances Shaw) and her quirky tenant and, later, object of desire Basel, played by “New Girl’s” Jake Johnson.
LaMarque has said that her narrative was part personal journey, part technical challenge and despite having the advantage of protecting her script by shooting it herself, she had enough confidence in the cast to encourage improvisation. This artistic freedom definitely was welcomed by the actors and comes through in both the major and minor performances proving there are no small parts, just small actors. Special mention should be made of Kazan’s versatility at playing two different people, in both comedic and dramatic ways, in different stages of emotion. She’s also the only actress who could get a laugh with a single yell and carry a scene with just one word. Perhaps one day that word will be “Oscar”.
WATCH Rudy Cecera interviewing Jenee Lamarque during the Tribeca Festival