A sophisticated, gritty drama that is notably more grown-up than most so-called "teen" flicks, "crazy/beautiful," directed by John Stockwell, has a lot going for it, not the least of being Kirsten Dunst (2001's "Get Over It"), who is one of the most gifted young actresses of her generation. With every role, Dunst fully embodies her characters with a zeal that is as charismatic as it is believable. And to prove what a chameleon she can be, Dunst has played everything from an ageless vampire (1994's "Interview with the Vampire"), to an alluring early-20th century debutante (2000's "Lover's Prayer"), to a suicidal teenager (2000's "The Virgin Suicides"), to an overly giddy cheerleader (2000's "Bring It On").
Dunst now stars as Nicole Oakley, a rebellious 17-year-old who is apt to go on both drinking and substance abuse binges. Nicole, whose father, Tom (Bruce Davison), is a California congressman, plays by her own rules, and doesn't care what other people think of her. It is this trait of fearlessness that attracts "A"-student Carlos (newcomer Jay Hernandez), who must travel two hours each morning to attend an exclusive, private co-ed high school, to her. They soon begin a whirlwind romance, despite their cultural, financial, and personality differences, which isolates them from close parties on both sides. When Tom, who has the power to get him into the naval academy he has always dreamed of going to, tells him to stay away from the troubled Nicole before she brings him down with her, Carlos must ultimately decide how important true love is when it means possibly sacrificing his future plans.
As written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, "crazy/beautiful" is a thoughtful, if minor, movie that is surrounded by good actors who make the most of their respective parts. Aside from Dunst's intimate, accurate portrayal of the problematic Nicole, Jay Hernandez amicably portrays Carlos as an intelligent young man with a bright future and an undeniable connection with Nicole. His is a face to definitely watch in the future. Also breaking the cliche of being a one-dimensional parent figure, Bruce Davison (2000's "X-Men") turns Tom Oakley into a conflicted man with a daughter whom he unconditionally loves, but doesn't know how to help. Lucinda Jenney (2000's "Remember the Titans"), on the other hand, is stuck playing Nicole's bitchy, whiny stepmother whose welcome wears thin real fast. Jenney offers no help in giving her any deeper character shades.
Where "crazy/beautiful" goes wrong is in its unmistakable similarities to 1995's superior "Mad Love," in which good kid Chris O'Donnell fell for mentally ill wild child Drew Barrymore. Not only are full scenes and plot developments lifted directly from "Mad Love," but Dunst's spacious glass-clad home is even a dead ringer for Barrymore's, complete with a Mexican housekeeper. The likeness doesn't stop there; even the very ending is the same, with the movie concluding with a brief narration from Dunst that is just like Barrymore's. There is a difference between two films sharing a resemblance, and downright infringement. Whatever the case may be, the film lacks urgency and any original insight into its characters because it felt like it had been made just a few years before.
What must be applauded, however, is its treatment of Nicole, whose behavior bordering on alcoholism is accurate and palpable. It's a testament to director Stockwell's expertise that he is able to convey so much, while not once showing Nicole actually taking a drink. With such a hard-edged character, the cutting of material to get a PG-13 rating could have very well spelled disaster, but it ends up not affecting the outcome as much as expected.
I'd like to say that "crazy/beautiful" is a motion picture worth seeing, but it isn't. There is so much that is good it's almost a shame to have to chastise it for its cliched storyline. Unfortunately, it is that very problem that turns what could have been a sharp, intuitive look at teenage love into a movie that has "been there/done that" written all over it.
Watching "crazy/beautiful" again on DVD, my opinion on the film
has changed dramatically, proving that, yes, even movie critics can be very
wrong sometimes. Although "crazy/beautiful" does bear a striking resemblance
to "Mad Love," that does not take away from how wonderfully written and acted
this gentle romance truly is. One sequence, played to the beautiful song,
"This Year's Love" by David Gray, is one of the most romantic moments on film
in quite some time. If I had to rate it today, it would shoot up from two to
©2001 by Dustin Putman