'Antarctica': Film Review

Courtesy of Film
Funny, but underexploits its protagonists' screw-'em-all chemistry.

Chloë Levine and newcomer Kimie Muroya star as high school misfits in Keith Bearden's sophomore feature.

Best friends who long ago accepted the rest of the world's ridiculousness have their solidarity tested in Antarctica, Keith Bearden's take on a teen-comedy model that always lives or dies by its stars' chemistry. He finds that chemistry — albeit in a less high-wattage way than in, say, Booksmart — with the pairing of newcomer Kimie Muroya and Chloë Levine (The OA). Together, the two bring out the humor in Bearden's skewed take on contemporary American weirdness without seeming to work for it. The film's pleasures peter out when the leads are apart for too long, though; and since the script is determined to let each girl grow through solitary trials instead of shared ones, its second half is a bit of a letdown.

Kat (Levine) and Janet (Muroya) live in a world where contemporary horrors (the fear of school shootings, for instance) have a Better Off Dead-style absurdist flavor. Local militiamen convince a principal to arm his school's janitor; a health-ed crone preaches abstinence in a farcical attempt at youthspeak; a history teacher praises Ronald Reagan and recalls the crack epidemic as an opportunity for underprivileged communities to hone their capitalist instincts. Our heroes are unfazed. They're sufficiently self-contained that maybe they should just become a couple — an idea Kat dismisses because she doesn't want to dress like a lesbian.

But their classmates don't see them as an indivisible unit. Stylish and cute, Kat gets invited to a party nobody asks Janet to attend. On a whim, she goes — and thus their real troubles begin.

Having been just amused enough by Stevie (Steve Lipman) to let him have sex with her in a stranger's car ("like a ninja" gets big laughs as a description of the seconds-long act), she regrets it the next day. Branded a slut, she's harassed mercilessly. Attempting to defend her, Janet is unfairly labeled a threat to public safety.

So within a few scenes, one of which includes some spot-on surrealism re the current state of abortion rights, the two are separated. Kat is sent to a sex rehab center, because the natural best environment for a pretty teenage girl is a dorm full of horny old dudes. Janet is put on a drug called Femtrexil and starts getting used to not knowing which things and people around her might be a hallucination. Like the nice-looking Rian (Bubba Weiler), who keeps showing up near her house dressed in a spacesuit.

Though the chuckles don't completely dry up at this point, the film starts to feel unfocused and less urgent than the words "first love with a probably imaginary astronaut" might suggest. Physically separated and suffering a vague emotional disconnection as well, Janet and Kat lose some of their underdog appeal. In one climactic scene, Bearden stumbles badly, extending a dark strand of social commentary far enough toward realism that most viewers will recoil. But the misstep isn't fatal, literally or figuratively, and the film makes its way back to the low-stakes charm that serves its characters well.

Distributor: Breaker Studios (Available on Breaker, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Dish, Spectrum, YouTube and more)
Production company: Greasy Films
Cast: Chloë Levine, Kimie Muroya, Steve Lipman, Damian Young, Bubba Weiler, Clea Lewis, Laith Nakli, Ajay Naidu, Jojo Gonzalez
Director-screenwriter: Keith Bearden
Producers: Peter Ernsky, Kim Jackson
Executive producers: Zach LeBeau, Chloë Levine
Director of photography: Madeline Kate Kann
Production designers: Tim Bruno, Alanna Wray McDonald
Costume designer: Cassidy Mosher
Editors: Meagan Costello, Khushnuda Shukurova
Composer: Andrew Hollander
Casting directors: Mia Cusumano, Meghan Rafferty

80 minutes