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Zoe Kazan unleashes her waiflike charms to excellent effect in The Pretty One, Jenee LaMarque’s debut feature about mismatched twins that resembles a morbidly funny episode of The Patty Duke Show. Playing a wallflower who assumes her late sister’s identity, the young actress delivers an emotionally compelling turn in this otherwise uneven comedy-drama unspooling at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The story concerns identical twins Audrey and Laurel, who despite appearances are diametric opposites. The former is sexy and outgoing, enjoying plenty of male attention and a successful job as a real-estate broker selling “storybook houses,” while the latter is unkempt and withdrawn, submerging her own happiness to care for her widowed father (John Carrol Lynch) and assist him in his pastime of painting mediocre copies of art masterpieces.
When the sisters spend the day together only to wind up in a deadly car accident, Laurel—who, in one the film’s many plot contrivances, has just had a makeover to make her look exactly like her glamorous twin—impulsively decides to go along when the survivor is assumed to be Audrey. Her feelings are only reinforced when she attends her own funeral and finds a distinct lack of feeling among the mourners.
Moving into her late sister’s apartment and taking over her job, Laurel covers up her odd behavior by pretending to be suffering from “post-traumatic amnesia.” She discovers that Audrey has been having an affair with a married man (Ron Livingston) and was about to evict her next-door neighbor and tenant, the raffishly charming Basel (Jake Johnson). She soon finds herself increasingly drawn to the latter and begins to emotionally blossom as their relationship develops.
Although her screenplay is not without its cleverly quirky touches–Laurel attends a “Twins Without Twins” support group, and a cover version of the Tootsie theme song plays during the end credits–the filmmaker is not quite able to make her modern-day fairy tale fully convincing or tonally cohesive. That the film works to the extent that it does is largely attributable to Kazan, who movingly conveys her principal character’s desperation to shed her own skin and confusion over the unpredictable results. Also terrific are Johnson, displaying the same laid-back comedic expertise as he does on the Fox sitcom New Girl, and Lynch, who has moments of genuine pathos as the bereaved father.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival
Production: Schorr Pictures, Provenance Pictures
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, John Carroll Lynch, Ron Livingston Shae D’lyn, Frankie Shaw, Sterling Beaumon
Director/screenwriter: Jenee LaMarque
Producers: Robin Schorr, Steven J. Berger
Executive producers: Hector LaMarque, Jann LaMarque, Chris Ferguson
Director of photography: Polly Morgan
Editor: Kiran Pallegadda
Production designer: Anne Costa
Costume designer: Emily Batson
Composer: Julian Wass
Not rated, 90 min.
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