'Kelly & Cal': Film Review

KELLY & CAL Still - H 2014
Courtesy of IFC

KELLY & CAL Still - H 2014

Good chemistry sparks two-hander about life-change depression

A new mom finds that only a high schooler understands her

A mismatched quasi-romance whose female half doesn't quite know what she's getting into, Kelly & Cal focuses on the floundering of a woman (Juliette Lewis) who is starting to realize how much of her old self becoming a mother has just destroyed. Though very sensitively (if not quite realistically) drawn by screenwriter Amy Lowe Starbin and director Jen McGowan, both making their debuts, the picture would go nowhere without the friendly chemistry between Lewis and costar Jonny Weston, as the wheelchair-bound high schooler who charms her. If young mothers had any time to go to movies, this one might draw them in droves.

Lewis' Kelly suffers postpartum depression, convinced she's lousy at mothering and worried her loving husband (Josh Hopkins) will never sleep with her again. (She has cause to worry on both fronts.) People have started calling her "mommy" instead of by name, but the other breeders in her white-bread community barely recognize her as part of the tribe.

Enter Cal, who gets under her skin with an indiscreet comment about her breasts. (She leaves the curtains open while breastfeeding; he approves.) After a brief period of outrage, she befriends the boy, who spends his days stuck in a garage apartment now that an accident has curtailed his social life. Drawn to his perceptiveness and wit (the mid-20s actor can't convince us that this eloquent charmer is a high schooler, but who cares), she starts visiting to share stories about her Riot Grrrl past. She was in a band, she proudly recalls, and the cassette she plays Cal could well have come from the mid-'90s indie scene.

Starbin enables this friendship's growth by dubious means, all but removing Kelly's infant as a factor in her life. Fearing her son's wife is going crazy, mother-in-law Bev (Cybill Shepherd) stages an ongoing intervention, dropping by every day (with Kelly's judgmental sister-in-law, played by Lucy Owen) to watch the baby, do household chores and let Kelly have alone time. If they knew a randy 18-year-old was taking that opportunity to form a romantic attachment, they might reconsider.

One of the misadventures the new friends get into turns, quite nicely, into a non-ironic homage to the romantic ambushes with which the boy in a 1980s teen comedy wins the girl's heart. And for a lovely, queasy moment, the stunt works for Cal as well — until the movie returns to reality, throwing cold water on the head of its ostensible grown-up, and seeking a more sustainable way for these two misfits to enrich each other's life.

Production company: Spring Pictures

Cast: Juliette Lewis, Jonny Weston, Josh Hopkins, Margaret Colin, Cybill Shepherd, Lucy Owen

Director: Jen McGowan

Screenwriter: Amy Lowe Starbin

Producers: Adi Ezroni, Mandy Tagger

Executive producers: Hezi Bezalel, Ishay Mor

Director of photography: Philip Lott

Production designer: Natasha Gerasimova

Costume designer: Sarah Beers

Editor: David Hopper

Music: Toby Chu

No rating, 110 minutes