Film Review: The Exploding Girl

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Berlin International Film Festival --  Forum
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BERLIN -- The emotional detonations prove minor but movingly resonant in "The Exploding Girl," an indie character study built four-square round Zoe Kazan's persuasive performance.

Granddaughter of Elia, the elfin-featured 25-year-old ("Revolutionary Road") quietly dominates this latest feature from husband-and-wife team Bradley Rust Gray -- who writes, directs, co-produces and co-edits here -- and Korean-American So Young Kim ("Treeless Mountain"), who serves as co-producer, co-editor, assistant director.

Intended to complement the latter's award-winning debut "In Between Days" -- the movies are named for sides of the same Cure single -- this delicate Brooklyn love-story functions just fine on its own limited terms. Festival play is assured for a nicely etched miniature that's likely to be passionately embraced by some while leaving many nonplussed: Think Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone You Know" meets Aaron Katz's "Quiet City."

"City" ranked among the stronger offshoots of the much-hyped/derided "Mumblecore" movement -- and "The Exploding Girl" comes across as a high-toned extension of the mini-genre. As shot on lustrous, pin-sharp HD-CAM by cinematographer Eric Lin, it's a slick-looking affair that "eavesdrops" and "spies" on its characters amid the constant, crowded hubbub of summer in the city.

Focus is four-square on 20ish university-student Ivy (Kazan), as she idles away her long vacation back at home with seldom seen dance teacher mom (Maryann Urbano). Ivy's lukewarm-at-best relationship with fellow student Greg (Franklin Pipp) is turning decidedly tepid, just as she's re-examining her feelings towards longtime best bud Al (Mark Rendall). Adding further complications -- and compromising her independence -- is Ivy's epilepsy, kept in check via medication.

Though it traces a fairly predictable arc, the story follows some intriguing tangents along the way as Ivy and Al inch toward acknowledging their simmering mutual feelings. And via Kazan's skilled, nuanced, empathetic characterization -- especially during several dialogue-free sequences where she communicates Ivy's inner life solely via facial expressions -- we're with this girl every step of the way. While Kazan is MVP of "The Exploding Girl," kudos is also due to sound-editor Michael Sterkin, who unobtrusively crafts a 3-D aural background featuring planes, birds, traffic, snatched fragments of conversation and myriad urban ephemera.

Production: Soandbrad (Brooklyn, New York)
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall, Maryann Urbano, Franklin Pipp
Director: Bradley Rust Gray
Screenwriter: Bradley Rust Gray
Producers: So Yong Kim, Karin Chien, Ben Howe, Bradley Rust Gray
Executive producers: Jason Diamond, Josh Diamond, Billfield Cheng, Lars Knudsen
Director of photography: Erin Lin
Editor: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray
Sales: Memento Films, Paris
No rating, 79 minutes