“You go to (insert Pacific Coast-sounding name here) High, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Heads are nodded in bobbing unison and a small flicker of chemistry is seen, barely visible, right around the time that the male character’s friends decide it is time to go goof off.
Not the greatest opening. Better scenes have been written in lower-level screenwriting classes, and gone on to receive less than warm grades. Lacking clever — or even tightly written — dialogue, “crazy/beautiful” holds itself together with some intangible force, providing a winner in the end.
The aforementioned dialogue — if one can call it that without chuckling — surely is not representative of the entire being that is “crazy/beautiful,” but serves as a perfect example of its curious nature. At times, one cannot help but laugh at himself for enduring the hack writing, and at others the film leaves one leaning forward on his palms in that deep, concentrating gaze that both serious and casual moviegoers alike are familiar with — one usually associated with original material.
“Crazy/beautiful” is the story of a deprived Latino stud named Carlos Nunez who lets an alcoholic teenager from his high school strip-tease and grind her way into his life, only to peel back her façade and discover a softer, gentler, camera-happy child inside.
In his final year of high school, Nunez buses two hours to school and two hours back, doubles as an all-star running back and “A” student, and has no time for screwing off in between — especially if he is to be accepted to the Naval Academy. When he hooks up with Nicole (Kirsten Dunst, “Bring it On”), he discovers the balance between work time and play time that his demanding mother hides from him, throwing his life into a tailspin. Further complicating Nunez’ life are Nicole’s reckless behavior and her father’s demand that he leave her.
As the athletic and intelligent (a combination we’ve become all too familiar with) Carlos Nunez, newcomer Jay Hernandez (MTV’s “Undressed”) delivers a subtly impressive performance. Without overplaying the part, Hernandez perfectly compliments director John Stockwell’s (“Under Cover”) tendency towards longer shots that dwell on facial expression and internal processes as opposed to straightforward dialogue. Perhaps he made the decision when he saw the quality of the script’s dialogue. In a year of a number of more serious, teen-heavy dramas, Hernandez resembles “Finding Forrester’s” calm Rob Brown, as opposed to “Save the Last Dance’s” hyperactive, over-acting Sean Patrick Thomas.
Across from him, Dunst excels as a dazed, but not-so-confused valley girl who appears to have been hitting the bottle since the age of ten.
Surely not the first teen drama, and most definitely not the last, “crazy/beautiful” succeeds by not trying to be anything more than such, but also not limiting itself to the boundaries of teen cinema.
Issues of depression and destructive behavior are dealt with seriously and are not left as unexplained entities whereas most movies expect us to just accept these issues and move along.
Race, although it plays a contributing role, does not shape the movie, nor do class issues. They are brought up as contributors to the difficult lives these very realistic characters lead, but never anything more.
Every time a stereotypical teen movie scene looms, an astonishingly original event occurs instead. A wealthy Malibu blonde is romancing with a Barrio-bred Latino, and the blonde’s father wants to talk to the boy. Surely, he intends to send the bad influence packing, maybe even with a little bribe money. Instead, in a moment that teeters on the brink of innovation and change for the sake of change alone, he tells him to run for his life. She seems to do to damage to everyone around her, he warns. Not exactly the stuff of a Mamet play, but gratifyingly original storytelling nonetheless.
“Crazy/beautiful” is not standard summer fare. It seems more like the type of film that gets released around the more serious, Oscar-driven winter period and gets lost amongst the heavyweights, by no fault of its own. Perhaps a serious teen drama will find its own niche amongst the dinosaurs and talking animals of summertime.