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Indie Snapshot: The Pretty One

by admin February 7, 2014 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: The Pretty One

When an actor hits it big on a TV series, he or she oftentimes tries to parlay that success into an A-list feature film career, following in the illustrious footsteps of George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and Tina Fey. So it's been interesting to see how breakout New Girl star Jake Johnson has so far used his increased visibility to become a major player not in Hollywood, but Indiewood. He started off by stealing scenes in the offbeat low-budget Aubrey Plaza vehicle Safety Not Guaranteed and then went toe-to-toe with a rejuvenated Olivia Wilde in Joe Swanberg's more polished mumblecore talkathon, Drinking Buddies last year. Now he's the leading man in the romantic comedy The Pretty One, which boasts a high-concept, studio-ready premise that's been translated into the indie realm. That means that the film goes for quirky comedy over big laughs, features a soundtrack filled with indie rock instead of Top 40 pop and stars Zoe Kazan instead of Zooey Deschanel.

Maybe it's just because the part requires her to fall for Deschanel's New Girl flame, but Zoe is awfully Zooey-like throughout The Pretty One -- right down to her adorkable fashion sense and anime-ready saucer eyes -- which casts her as a pair of twin sisters who are identical in appearance but worlds apart personality-wise. Where outgoing, glamorous Audrey left her family's rural homestead for the city following the death of their mother, mousy wallflower Laurel stayed put, claiming that she wanted to look after their father, but really due to her fear of the outside world. She finally gets her opportunity to escape when Audrey -- back in town for their birthday -- dies in a car accident that Laurel just barely survives. (In the safer, PG-13 rated Hollywood version, Audrey would likely cling to life in a coma while the rest of the plot plays out.) Everyone assumes that Laurel was the one who perished, though, so the not-so-dead girl slips into the identity of her dearly departed sis and carries on with Audrey's life, taking up residence in her small, but cozy apartment, going on a dinner date with her married boyfriend (Ron Livingston) and punching in at her job selling fantasy homes. But there are certain areas in which Laurel departs from Audrey, most notably her attraction to the creative loafer next door (Johnson) -- a guy her sister took every opportunity to ridicule.

You can probably guess what happens next and The Pretty One doesn't pretend that it's not predictable. Instead, writer/director Jenée LaMarque trusts that viewers will find the leads so winning, they won't mind watching them play out what's basically a standard issue rom-com arc where only the minor details are tweaked. She's not completely wrong about that, as Johnson and Kazan quickly establish a chemistry that's cute-quirky rather than annoying-quirky. (To paraphrase that old line about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, she gives him a purpose and he gives her sex appeal.) And it's Johnson's regular-guy earthiness in particular that helps offset the artificiality of the plot contrivances, bringing more believability to the completed film than is present in LaMarque's script. Just like Clooney is one of those movie stars whose mere presence often makes a studio blockbuster more enjoyable, Johnson's involvement tends to make even the most questionable-looking indie fare worth a watch.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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