Sometimes films focussing mainly on character over story work as intended, and often they don’t… in the case of The Exploding Girl, the accuracy of the writing and portrayal of lead character Ivy means it joins the list of those that do.
Ivy (Zoe Kazan) is back in New York City for a break from college, accompanied by long-time friend Al (Mark Rendall). Her boyfriend, meanwhile, is home with his family and old friends, and proving rather difficult for Ivy to keep in touch with. When the inevitable occurs, Ivy must reexamine her relationships with those around her.
Just as in Yuri’s Day – seen just hours before The Exploding Girl at the Melbourne International Film Festival – not much seems to happen: writer/director Bradley Rust Gray seems prepared to allow his lead characters to generate enough spark to carry the film. Sure, there are minor sub-plots hidden throughout, but the focus is primarily on Ivy and her experience of a short week at home from school.
Kazan plays her role to perfection, bringing just the right mixture of charm and coy grace to her performance as the relatively awkward Ivy. She is matched well by Rendall as Al, although his character is a little harder to get a hold of – is he a slacker, or an undiscovered genius? A romantic or a slut? In any reading, it is hard to dispute these characters seem like real people with real problems, rather than unlikely players from imaginary worlds.
It is the writing, however, that makes the strongest impression, with both lead characters well developed and their story simply, yet coherently, told. It is often the hardest thing to make a story seem simple, but that is the impression this film creates. There is very little excess in The Exploding Girl, with what appears to be the simplest version of the tale on screen after who knows how many revisions and rewrites.
The soundtrack is also simple and yet provides perfect accompaniment to the events on screen, while the cinematography and editing invite the audience to participate rather than erecting barriers to the film’s appreciation (occasional handheld camerawork artifice aside, of course).
Although it certainly isn’t perfect, The Exploding Girl works a character piece that explores a brief period in the life of a young woman. That it seems determined to keep things as simple as possible – both in story, as well as technique – should be applauded, and the restraint shown in editing and production rewarded.Rating: