Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Stockwell

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez, Bruce Davison, Lucinda Jenney, Taryn Manning

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving teens, drug/alcohol content, sexuality and language)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 6/29/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Itís a rare thing for movies about teenagers to try to be serious, and itís even more rare when they succeed. I remember how embarrassing the serious parts of American Pie were, and watching Crazy/Beautiful, I realized why they didnít work. That movie tried to resolve relationships that were handled comedically through the majority of the movie with a single serious scene that just had the couple either breaking up or staying together. There was no thought behind the decision, and it never rang true in any way because we didnít have anything at stake with those characters.

Crazy/Beautifulís success relies on the audience caring about its young lovers, and director John Stockwell (who directed an even smarter made-for-TV movie called Cheaters) knows this. Luckily, caring about them is an easy task. The two lovers, Nicole and Carlos, are played by Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez, two talented and charming young actors. Place their characters in a story that has a cultural, political, and social conscience, and you have a surprisingly intelligent and effective movie.

This is even more surprising considering how conventionally it begins. Carlos and his friends are at the beach when they see Nicole picking up trash as community service. They eventually go to talk to her and learn she got there for robbing a 7-11. Nicole and Carlos catch each otherís eyes, and before long, the two meet at Pacific High School, where they are both students. Soon we learn that Nicole is much more wild and self-destructive than she first gives off. She tells Carlos that she was doing community service not for robbery but for driving under the influence. After a few more meetings, the two start going out.

Up until this point Crazy/Beautiful has not treaded any new ground, but it is solidly enjoyable. This is mostly in part to Dunst and Hernandez. For the majority of the movie, Nicole is simply a wild child. For this reason, Dunst may seem to be giving a one-note performance, but she hits that note strongly and consistently. Later when the events of the story get more emotionally challenging for Nicole, Dunst is more than capable of keeping up with the demands of her character. Carlos, on the other hand, is Nicoleís polar opposite. He relies on routine and dedication, and as he first gets into Nicoleís lifestyle, you can see how uncomfortable and timid he is. Itís a subtle feeling, but Hernandez gets it across.

Once the romance is established, Crazy/Beautiful starts to slowly follow through on issues it has brought up. The cultural and socioeconomic differences between Nicole and Carlos, hinted at throughout, start to come more into play. In one scene, Carlos must stand by as a fellow football player provokes some of his friends. In another, Nicole must deal with the looks she gets as she wanders through Carlosí sisterís birthday party. Place these issues in a lesser movie, and they will come out forced. Here they work.

The movie really picks up with the appearance of Nicoleís father, a liberal congressman played by Bruce Davison. At first, he seems like a necessity of the plotóto establish Nicoleís financial and emotional background and to provide Carlos with a way into Annapolis. But he soon becomes a much more important element to the filmís success. Davison gives the best performance in the film, giving the scenes between father and daughter a surprising emotional complexity. He also has a great sceneóthe best in the movieówith Carlos, which starts off with more story revelations but grows into a warning that shows a lot about his character.

Crazy/Beautiful is the second movie this year to handle a cross-cultural teenage relationship in a mature and intelligent fashion. The first was Save the Last Dance, which caught me off guard pretty quickly into its story. This one takes a little while to develop into something more than it seems to be, but it nevertheless does, and thatís more than enough for me.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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