Eye For Film >> Movies >> Electrick Children (2012) Film Review
Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall
Rebecca Thomas's debut full length feature is a curious little piece. Judging from the trailer, you might be expecting a lushly-shot, dreamy, Sophie Coppola type low-key comedy, a coming of age drama, or perhaps an art house teen road trip movie set to a too-cool-for-school soundtrack. In fact Electrick Children is partly these things, but its also something else. It's funny, it's beautifully shot and it has a lively cast that handles the humour and drama in equal balance, but it's a film that is not afraid to be just plain out-there with its plot developments. One thing it is not is an Amish in the City comedy romp. That can be left for the American Pie producers.
The story follows the adventures of Rachel (Julie Garner), a curious and bright teenager from a fundamentalist Mormon family living in a secluded farm in Utah. Though conservative, her parents are not cruel, and we get the impression they have gently shielded Rachel from the outside world rather than resorting to locking her in a cupboard. Nevertheless on Rachel's 15th birthday, her insatiable curiosity leads her to discover a forbidden cassette tape with a rock music track on it in the farm's basement storehouse. Having never heard anything like the track (which is in fact, Hanging On The Telephone by The Nerves) before, Rachel becomes mesmerised by the whole experience. Three months later, Rachel suddenly realises she is pregnant. Her parents are confused and shocked, even more so when Rachel claims to have had an immaculate conception from listening to the music - how else could the transcendental effect of the music on her be explained?
Believing instead that Rachel's friend and fellow mormon teenager Mr Will (Liam Aiken) is the father, Rachel's father Paul (Billy Zane) angrily banishes him from the community and declares that he will arrange a marriage for Rachel as per their traditions.
This marriage decree proves the breaking point for Rachel, who until now has just gently brushed up against the controls of her parents. With her mother Gay Lynne (Cynthia Watros)'s secret connivance, she steals a car and drives away to the closest city, Las Vegas, to search for the man who sings on the cassette tape, thinking he must have something to do with her mysterious pregnancy. Maybe he is somehow the father, even. Wandering the neon jungle of Las Vegas, Rachel and Mr Will fall in with disillusioned young rich kid Clyde (Rory Culkin) and his stoner/skater crew, who take the naïve, wide-eyed Mormon kids under their wing. Given Clyde hangs around with a band headed up by the good-looking if somewhat monosyllabic Johnny, Rachel is convinced that the answers to her musical pregnancy might lie with him.
Coming to UK screens not long after Martha Marcy May Marlene (a film which Julia Garner also appeared in), this is another low budget indie film that looks at cults and their lasting effects on the one-time initiated, who are released back into the world. But this isn't really a forensic study of Mormonism or a dark critique - the Mormon family here are portrayed in a far less sensational manner and are hardly the fire and brimstone reactionaries one might expect. When Rachel flees they wait for her to return rather than trying to track her down and drag her back, and in one of the film's most intriguing scenes we see Rachel's mother narrating a bedtime story which we learn, through flashbacks that only viewers are privileged to, is in fact a careful reworking of her own first sexual experience from a wilder time. Only later when she declares Rachel must get married do we get into more stereotypical rebellion-against-tradition terrain.
As Rachel flees to Las Vegas, this low-key coming of age drama pokes gently into questions of faith, temptation, family and belonging. Rachel and Clyde draw closer as he introduces her to Las Vegas sins - gigs, skate parks, pools and pizza - pushing Rachel to decide whether or not she will return home and what to do about her mysterious pregnancy. There is a dreamy magical realism feel to all the proceedings- Rachel's bizarrely unexplained pregnancy, the oddly accepting attitude of Clyde's crew to Rachel and Mr Will, and a series of fantastical plot contrivances that introduce certain characters into the film. The languid, gluey atmosphere is greatly enhanced by some atmospheric cinematography, capturing the vitality of Las Vegas and the Utah deserts by day, dusk and night and avoiding the usual cliched iconography of casinos and bars.
Though the film contains strong individual elements, particularly Julia Garner's excellent performance that captures her character's mix of intelligence, optimism and naivety, Rachel's offbeat escapades never seem to entirely add up to something deeply profound and exploratory for either her or the viewer. The finale ultimately relies on a conventional 'rescue the heroine' team effort, which is surprising given how strange the various plot movements were before. There is also no way the film is going to avoid the dreaded 'quirky' label, given its oddball plot and indie-darling cast. Nevertheless, Electrick Children heralds the arrival of two new bright female talents in cinema in the shape of its director and star.Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2012