The Pretty One is a tragic tale of death, self acceptance, and teaching young girls that identity fraud will find you the love of your life – a tonally confusing story from first time feature creator Jenée LaMarque. Enlisting such phenomenal acting talents as Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, and John Carroll Lynch, LaMarque shows extreme promise as a future director, squeezing memorable performances from her cast, but with a story attempting to delicately balance both light and dark material – something seems amiss. Tragic, yes, but tragically depressing, tragically constricting, and tragically, well, awkward – a total shame considering Zoe Kazan’s enlightening characterization.
Laurel and Audrey (Zoe Kazan) are identical twins living polar opposite lifestyles. Laurel stays home and cares for her father (John Carroll Lynch) in the wake of her mother’s death, still sleeping in the same twin bed from her early childhood, while Audrey’s ambitions turned her into a successful big-city real estate agent. Reunited once again to celebrate their most recent birthday, Audrey surprises Laurel by offering room and board so she can finally escape her quaint country life – and a mirroring makeover that’ll make anyone see double. Before Laurel’s new look can be shown off, Audrey steers them into a head on collision, throwing Laurel through the windshield – but she’s immediately mistaken for her now deceased sister as Audrey’s charred remains are unrecognizable. Seeing a second chance, Laurel pretends to be her sister and moves into her city abode, adopting Audrey’s lifestyle as her own – a recipe for disaster that every one of us spots from a mile away.
Zoe Kazan is a magnificent actress, and The Pretty One gives her yet another opportunity to shine – well, actually, two opportunities. Zoe plays twin sisters Laurel and Audrey, until one is killed off and Laurel is the last sister standing – but she’s given the chance to embody Audrey’s wild and free spirit. Doe-eyed and attempting a dark game of “Trading Places,” Kazan provides a thoughtful comparison on how Audrey is perceived as the “put together” sister simply because she’s achieved independent success. Laurel’s innocence may become blatantly obvious when dealing with cheating husbands and surprised tenants, but perceptions aren’t everything as Kazan proves through her duelling characters.
Can we say enough good things about Jake Johnson? No actor in Hollywood has the “normal guy” routine so expertly handled, bringing infectious wit, cunning charm, and a heaping amount of personality to every single character he plays – including Zoe Kazan’s love interest Basel. Laurel embraces Basel’s charitable nature and fun-loving lifestyle, whereas Audrey gave off a much colder vibe – something Basel notices but doesn’t fully acknowledge. Following the dramatic nature of The Pretty One, he eventually finds out Laurel’s twisted secret, and the struggles begin for a conflicted character caught in an extraordinaire lie. This is where Johnson’s snapping seriousness kicks in, highlighting where Basel really shines – a fantastic dynamic between Zoe and Jake.
While I adored both Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson, it’s Jenée LaMarque’s tonally awkward story that had me uncomfortably deciding between laughter or sadness. There’s undoubtedly a grander meaning to Laurel’s self-affirming journey into the big bad world, but as The Pretty One stands, there’s a horrid balancing of such deep, disturbing material with quirkier, light-hearted moments. Such a combination left a weird taste in my mouth, almost as if I understood what I should have been enjoying, yet this murky cloud of confusion prevented full appreciation of Laurel’s switcheroo. LaMarque’s attempt is an admirable one, killing off a twin and leaving the other to make one of the worst decisions of all time, but sickening moments of displeasure prevented full immersion into The Pretty One‘s ambitious love story.
Some will embrace such devastating material coupled with fitting redemption, as I’m just one person, but wonderful performances by Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson are lost amidst icky imbalances and weirdly ineffective breakout moments. The Pretty One goes for broke, which I more than respect, but Jenée LaMarque’s atmosphere won’t strike every viewer with the emotional gut-punch intended. It’s a story of sisterly love, escaping small-town thinking, and appreciating every breath we take, but we’ve seen this Phoenix rise before – with much more favorable results.
The wonderful chemistry between Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson in The Pretty One becomes lost amidst a story that struggles to balance driving emotions and charming comedy, falling into a confused and awkward classification.