The Exploding Girl

The Exploding Girl


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Following last year’s Treeless Mountain, writing, directing, producing, marrying collaborators Bradley Rust Gray and So Yong Kim have reteamed for another budget indie. This time husband Gray’s at the helm and delivers a minor mumblecore treat.

Twenty-year-old Ivy (Zoe Kazan) returns home to New York for a college spring break, with an omnipresent mobile keeping her in touch with a new boyfriend. Her best pal Al (Mark Rendall) is also back and when he can’t find a place to stay, Ivy’s mum takes him in. Spending time hanging out in the city and going to the odd party helps their easy-going friendship grow even closer, eventually. It’s clear that they have more serious feelings for each other, but all the while Al has slacker hots for a local girl and Ivy’s starting to get stressed by her increasingly reticent boyfriend. Hazy, urban days and awkward angst ensue.

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There’s a warm bun-smelling familiarity to the stuttering apprehension that Ivy and Al portray. The Exploding Girl is a laudable success as an exercise in evincing their nascent bittersweet feelings. The toe-dipping into mature feelings of love and loneliness also strikes easily recognisable notes beyond their age group. This basic singularity is the film’s strength and appeal, yet look for more and you’re likely to be disappointed.

The camera follows Ivy predominantly, capturing her everyday conventions and reactions. She is a sweet, vulnerable creation and Kazan, granddaughter of the illustrious Elia (On The Waterfront), handles the mostly improvised action well. That said, at times there is forcedness to some of her journey’s chapters. It feels like this stems from being given a specific outline of what to achieve in scenes, rather than a narrative being aggregated through the editing of numerous filmed episodes. Still, Kazan is one to watch, having picked up the best actress award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and starred in Revolutionary Road, she now has Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles coming up.

Gray frequently films Kazan and Rendall from half a street or more away. This places them very much in the actual and metaphorical middle-ground, with traffic and pedestrians milling around them unawares. These scenes are quite affecting, perhaps more so than their intimate, enclosed ones. The sound design is a key feature, especially when they’re outside, with the dialogue jostling against and occasionally losing out to the noises of urban life. In fact, the sound design is so deliberately lo-fi that it almost fails to remain just that.

The Exploding Girl is a proficient and compact, kindling little film that patiently achieves its aims. There’s a feeling that this is a stepping stone for all involved, but they do invest it with a pervasive and engaging sense of honest commitment.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2009
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Two long-time confidants negotiate feelings and friendships during their college break.
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Director: Bradley Rust Gray

Writer: Bradley Rust Gray

Starring: Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall, Franklin Pipp, Maryann Urbano

Year: 2009

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: US

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