As Cool as I am
In the traditional Shakespearian training an actor begins with small roles suited for a young man working his way up through staring leading men and eventually to parts written for the wise older man. The same should be the same for actresses although with the misguided lack of lack of sensibilities once youth is past the parts dry up. Fortunately this paradigm has shifted and quality roles are opening for women of all ages. An example that recently crossed my desk demonstrates this nicely; ‘As Cool as I am’. The leading lady for this movie is an exceptionally talented woman, Claire Danes. It seems like only a few television seasons ago that she entered the public eye as fifteen year old Angela Chase in the cult classic TV series, ‘My So-Called Life’. Currently she is the star of one of the most popular and critically political thrillers, ‘Homeland’. In the intervening time the gifted Ms Danes sharpened her abilities with a combination of mainstream and independent projects. This movie is one such Indy were the acting acumen that once brought a confused teenage girl is focus on portraying the mother of a different girl struggling with her coming of age. While not a project that was capable of reaching it’d full potential it is a showcase for some exceedingly well crafted performances.
Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger) has a personality that runs towards what was commonly referred to as a tomboy. With a preference for male attire and a haircut usually regarded as masculine she fits in with her friends and just another one of the guys. As frequently transpires her best friend is a boy, Kenny (Thomas Mann). The inevitable fact about tomboys is the onset of puberty. Their once unisex bodies gain curves that will distinguish them as women. Puberty also manifests a profound effect on their male friends. As their hormonal constitution is kicked into overdrive there are inexorably transferred from friendship to wanting a different kind of relationship, one highlighting emotional and physical aspects. Kenny found himself in that particular situation as they both enter adolescence.
Lucy had always looked upon the relationship of her parents, Lainee (Claire Danes) and Chuck (James Marsden). This is not unusual; no matter how many variations on the family structure and interaction they might be aware of the one at home is their gauge to what is normal. Of course this is far from the case. Chuck is frequently away from home due to the requirements of his job, lumberjack. Life at home with her mother is fundamentally amiable, as long as Lucy helps to keep the home uncluttered and up to Mom’s standards. Although married the long periods of her husband’s absence the dynamic is similar to a single parent household. Consistent with this Lainee often tries too hard to be her daughter’s friend in lieu of actually parental authority. An example of this is Mom permitting Lucy to drive despite being too young to legally do so.
Once Lucy passes her sixteenth birthday and things begin to change in her best friend relationship with Kenny, the typical elements of the coming of age story surface. Best friends morph into the 21st century popular trope, friends with benefits. Kenny rounds the bases in a more or less traditional fashion beginning with increasingly passionate kissing leading more intimate expressions. This new found sexual awakening understandably manifested with alterations in Lucy’s self-image. Her short cropped coiffure is permitted to grow out to a feminine look. Lucy goes through the young girl’s foray into womanhood by experimenting with make-up reinforcing the mutual attraction between her and Kenny. Her new found glimpse into sexuality has the unexpected effect of inducing an altered perception of her parent’s relationship. Lucy gains a radically different understanding of what occurs during Dad’s prolonged times working in the forests of Canada.
Understandably one of the primary themes exploded here is the changes in how Lucy and Kenny relate to each other, bourgeoning sexuality has always been a trying time in a person’s life but with the liberalized attitudes pervasive today this period can be increasingly confusing. At times they appear to be on the brink of love with minutes later finding it difficult to be near each other. Concurrent with this internalized disruption a re-equilibration of their social attitudes occurs. This is demonstrated by both teens branching out, associating with a wild crowd and spending time in parties that are riff with potentially dangerous activities. Lucy is not the only member of the Diamond family undergoing radical emotional changes. Her mother reaches a tipping point in coping with the loneliness intrinsically infused in her martial situation. Lainee succumbs or the frequent, protracted periods of emotional isolation. Her response is to engage in an affair with Guy (James Marsden, one of her co-workers. Mom realizes that it is imperative to keep her affair secret and while she is successful to some degree with Chuck. Lucy is another matter. Closer to the situation and with her mind set along sexual lines, she readily glimpses what was actually going on.
This is an initial opus for nascent screenwriter Virginia Korus Spragg who based her script on the novel of the same name by Pete Fromm. From what I can gather the film adaptation is reasonably faithful to the book. The themes explored in this movie do present a degree of difficulty sufficient to warrant pause as a first foray into movies. I have to afford proper respect for a newcomer to tackle a coming of age story is a genre that is close to saturation particularly in the context of an impendent endeavor. The inherent emotional involvement and family drama makes this situation ideal for a filmmaker. The intimacy and universal relatable aspect of the theme provides an avenue for the filmmaker to reach out and form a connection between his work and his audience. Because this it is exceedingly challenging to come up with novel approach but here Ms Spragg focused on the core of the story, the emotional progression in pair of women representing two adjacent generations.
Taking on the transition of the story, bringing it to life on screen is the director, Max Mayer. I was impressed by his previous film, ‘Adam’ a poignant examination of a man with Asperger syndrome trying to build a normal relationship. This experience in the unusual way people can relate to each other on an intimate basis. Some have held this movie in derision cite examples of apparent technical flaws. While a more experienced screenwriter and director team might have provided a more polished product, at least from technical point of view the result would inevitably have suffered greatly. The creative teamwork displayed here eschewed the film school techniques by embracing the emotional veracity of the situations and character development. The movie has heart in place technique; something that you just cannot achieve in most mainstream films. Ms Danes has passed the torch gracefully to Ms with much in the way of great roles ahead for both. In a touch of irony Bolger is currently part of a successful television series playing a young woman facing extreme difficulties, Princess Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty on the ABC/Disney series, ‘Once Upon a Time’.