'The Pretty One' Review: Zoe Kazan Is Fantastic In This Touching And Strange Coming Of Age Romance
The Pretty One tells the timeless story of a young woman finding out who she truly is brilliantly disguised in a unique story: a girl, Laurel, takes over her identical twin sister’s life after she dies and is misidentified.
Laurel and Audrey, both played by the charming Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), are identical twin sisters who went their separate ways after their mother died. Laurel, the shyer of the two, stayed home and became their father’s caretaker. Despite the fact that he has a girlfriend, Laurel is the one who makes him breakfast, cleans the house and she even works with him making forgeries, or “copies,” of famous paintings. Meanwhile her twin, Audrey, has left their small town for a glamorous life in the city, resulting in a strained relationship with their father. When Audrey returns home to celebrate their birthday, the two sisters get in a tragic car accident, leaving only Laurel alive. Due to a little bout of traumatic amnesia and confusing necklaces, everyone, even herself at first, believes Laurel to be dead and Audrey to have survived, instead of the other way around. After remembering who she really is, Laurel wants to come clean, only to feel completely unloved at her own funeral. Laurel needs to live a new life where she can escape her dead end future and decides that being Audrey would be the perfect solution. So she leaves home, wears her sister’s clothes and struggles to fit herself into a life she didn’t build: friends she didn’t make and doesn’t know, a job she knows nothing about and an apartment she’s never been to.
Kazan is lovely as Laurel/Audrey. Her wide eyes and small movements perfectly convey Laurel’s innocence and naiveté, not to mention her discomfort in any social situation. The film takes place in a kind of fantasy world aesthetic-wise, with bright colors and flashes of modern décor that make the film look like a less hipster, cleaner New Girl. The film is nothing at all like the popular sitcom, though there is a certain amount of quirk factor. The New Girl comparison isn’t completely off base, after all, with the sitcom’s Jake Johnson taking on the role of Basel, Audrey’s odd tenant and Laurel/Audrey’s love interest. Johnson leaves Nick (his character on New Girl) behind in The Pretty One, though his character isn’t all that different; both are described as being a 'man child.' But, with The Pretty One, Johnson shows that he can play the 'man child' in a more realistic way. In a sitcom, the heightened reality and big humor helps a character stand out in a 30-minute episode, but in a movie it can easily become tiresome. As Basel, Johnson abandons the loud speech and over-sized gestures, showing off a subtle side not often seen in New Girl. It doesn't hurt that Basel's relationship with Laurel/Audrey is, certainly, a highlight of the film. With his boyish charm, slightly goofy and handsome, Basel is the guy every girl wishes was her next-door neighbor. The best part is that he has about as much of his life figured out as Laurel/Audrey does, putting them on equal footing. They are both desperate to be other people; they find it easier to be truthful while not themselves. Case in point: Basel and Laurel/Audrey fall in love while pretending to be their picture perfect neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Brown.
However conventional The Pretty One might seem, Kazan and writer-director Jenée LaMarque make the coming of age story fresh. Kazan is careful and subtle with her performance which keeps both Laurel and Audrey (and Laurel/Audrey) from ever becoming caricatures or extremes. It would be easy to make Audrey and Laurel polar opposites and have the switching lives plot be comical and larger than life. Kazan somehow manages to play each sister just differently enough to make it clear to the viewer that the two women are fully formed, separate people. And LaMarque writes Laurel and Audrey as the same despite their differences, close even though they aren’t a part of each other’s daily lives.
What is perhaps most impressive about the film is how the identical twins premise isn’t just a quirky inciting incident, the fact that Laurel/Audrey is a twin is crucial to her character development and the development of her identity. Laurel becomes her sister, who she sees as leading a perfect life, and quickly realizes that she doesn't want to be her sister after all. And that dual aspect of the character is never forgotten. Laurel doesn’t take up residence in Audrey’s life, she incorporates it into her own, forming a brand new person.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with The Pretty One. The acting is excellent across the board: John Carroll Lynch is heartbreaking as the twins’ father, and Frances Shaw is particularly memorable as Audrey’s snobby, yet loyal best friend. The plot isn’t as original as it could be, but that’s not so much a fault as an unavoidable consequence to making a coming of age story. The very fact that the story is considered ‘genre’ ensures that it won’t feel 100% unique. What makes The Pretty One stand out from other coming of age films is that it’s also a film about grief, family, sisters with a premise just odd enough to separate it from the pack.
On a personal note, as a twin myself (though not identical), I found the movie to be extremely touching. Twins have a unique bond as siblings because they never existed without each other. Never has one grown, spoken or thought without the other doing the same. The Pretty One perfectly depicts the one-of-a-kind bond that comes from being a twin and the struggle for a twin to create an identity separate from the other.