Remember the Daze (Beautiful Ordinary)
Many films seem to feel that they have to wow the audience. There has to be action which unfortunately often overwhelms any plot the movie may have. Then there are those rare films that speak to the heart of the audience. They connect with us emotionally because we can emotionally identify with the characters in the story. These stories contain drama and tension that is derived more naturally from the every day lives of the characters within it. One such film is ‘Remember the Daze’ also known by its theatrical release name of ‘Beautiful Ordinary’. It is a tale of four girls starting out on their last day of high school. This is a time in our lives that all of us remember and can understand. Those of us with a few decades gone by since that all important day it may take a few minutes of watching this film to return to those feelings. This is a time of emotional intensity for teenagers but as adults so much has happened since then that it is good to revisit that time of life. From a personal perspective this film was a glimpse into unknown territory for me. I attended an all male high school so watching a group of four girls take on the last day of school was simply fascinating. For men in the audience it should have a similar effect; showing us what the other half thinks. For women it is certain to bring back a lot of memories.
This gentle film was written and directed by independent new comer Jess Manafort. She is certainly a talent to watch in the future. It is reassuring that a movie about a group of girls would come from a woman. It seems that when men write scripts about teenage girls it is the stereotypical girl not a real one they have in mind. Ms. Manafort captures the angst and trepidation that these characters undergo. Her script moves along through the space of a single day. This is a pivotal day for the young ladies. High school may have been a tumulus time. They had to navigate the treacherous high school drama of cliques, getting the right boyfriend and maintaining relationships within their own circle of friends. As worrisome as that may have seemed just a day before now the four of them are on the cusp of adulthood. They have to go to college, get married or join the work force. No matter what lies ahead this is the last official summer of childhood that is just about to begin. Ms Manafort chose an good year for such a story, 1999. according to her bio she graduated in 2000 but going back one year from personal experience adds the little touch of the last graduating class of the new millennium. Okay, the millennium really started in 2001 but you know what I mean. There was the threat of the dreaded Y2K crisis that never happened. Manafort speaks for and to this generation and even those outside that demographic will enjoy the story.
As a freshman director Manafort does an excellent job here. She lets the film carry itself instead of forcing the pacing. Things happen often despite the character’s interaction. There are ebbs and flows to the pacing that naturally reflects the movement though a single day. Frequently in a film such as this there is a main character to provide an anchor for the story; not so much here. The girls are a group and they know that they are about to split up. This is day ahead is a turning point and like it or not they will get through it together. About every decade or so a film of this type has to come around; it is mandatory. In the past there were ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘American Graffiti’ and the similarly plotted ‘Can't Hardly Wait’. Ms Manafort has placed a unique stamp on this sub genre that will make this a classic. She appears to guide more than direct. I’m sure she worked extremely hard on this film but the fantastic thing about it is she makes it look easy. There is nothing forced or contrived that pops up to derail the tone.
The film and the day begins with Thomas (Charles Chen) walking around the neighborhood doing what he enjoys most, photographic everything he sees. He is a quite boy, amazed at what beauty he can discover in the world. He walks by Mr. Ford (David Temple) who is in his bathrobe getting his paper. The camera then moves to follow Ford into the house where he is greeted by his wife (Moira Kelly). She hands him a strip of bacon and wishes him good luck as he heads off to their daughter’s room to wake her. Julia (Amber Heard) is asleep and not ready to face the coming day. He then goes to his younger daughter Angie’s (Brie Larson) who is graduating from middle school. She reacts differently from her sleepy sister as she shouts an obscenity at her father. Later in her car Julia passes a couple of boys, Felix (Chris Marquette) and Mod (Sean Marquette), in there clunker of a car. They have a bag of pot and can’t wait to get to school to get high. On the way they stop to pick Dylan (Khleo Thomas) who has a mother that all the boys dream about. He has a girlfriend Stacy Cherry (Marnette Patterson) the typical overachiever cheerleader and his complete opposite. The pot didn’t quite make it to school before being consumed by the three guys. Here are also some other boys in the mix such as Biz (Wesley Jonathan) and Eddie (Shahine Ezell) who act like they are from the hood even though they live in Wilmington, North Carolina. Part of the main girl group is Brianne (Melonie Diaz) and her best friend since forever, Dawn (Lyndsy Fonseca). Looking forward to entering high school is Holly (Alexa Vega) who is trying to date an older boy (John Robinson). Julia is the party oriented girl who has an on again off again relationship with Pete (Douglas Smith) who is a stone through away from flunking out. Her mother is afraid what college in New York City will do to her unaware that she is no longer a virgin, has a tattoo and uses drugs.
This film is simply a slice of life. Parents may be upset with the language and substance use portrayed but realistically, it is going on even as shown here in Middle America. For this generation this is a film that will freeze in time a turning point in their lives. The film is a fine example of the comedy/drama. Life is like that with some of the most serious times peppered with humor. The young cast is excellent with Alexa Vega making the transition into teen roles after a three film stint as a kid spy. One directorial technique that works very well here is the seamless transition from one group of characters to another. One passes the other and the camera shifts focus and follows. The character of Thomas is a lot like the bike rider in Robert Altman’s ‘Nashville’; he comes and goes helping to string the scenes together.
Once again First Look Entertainment finds a little Indy film of value. This is an extremely well thought out and crafted movie that is fun to watch. There are no serious messages here, there rarely are in a day that is so pivotal. This is just a look at life and that is what makes it special.