Pending implosion for “The Exploding Girl”

Pending implosion for

Jaime Chu

uc.jpg Summer break in Brooklyn not at its finest

"The Exploding Girl" is the kind of film that takes place during summer in Brooklyn, New York City. The scenery consists of parks in full bloom and simmering city traffic. The wardrobe is made up of baby blue gingham shirt-dresses, teal romper suits, and linen sundresses. There are parties in various parts of the city. Time passes while people walk, make phone calls, drink, and have whimsical conversations.

The characters in the minimalist story are Ivy (Zoe Kazan from "Revolutionary Road" and "It’s Complicated") and Al (Mark Rendall), who have known each other since they were eight years old. They are spending a summer break from college in New York City. The electrifying chemistry between the two is immediately apparent, and carries the first part of the film into the brewing sensation of repressed sentiments. Unfortunately, the tension gradually wears off, as Al becomes sheepish, oblivious, and mostly awkward around Ivy (of course, without meaning to be), and Ivy tries to stay intact in spite of the shredding relationship between her and her absent boyfriend, Greg.

One of Cinequest 20's more hyped selections, "The Exploding Girl" shines only as far Zoe Kazan shines in her role as Ivy. Photo taken from Momento Films

It is the "nothingness" that goes on in the minds of 20-somethings at an idle time of life at stake here. The title is safely the most dramatic element of the film. Perhaps the irony is the effect of the title, that when the suggested outbreak barely happens, the lack builds up to a beautiful restraint undercutting Ivy’s emotional state.

The shots are long and tightly-framed. The layers of noise and objects — furniture, traffic — between the camera and the subjects allow the audience to observe as distant on-lookers without intruding the characters’ privacy, which in turn allows the genuine relationship between Ivy and Al to be felt rather than judged. The premise and style of the film is inspired by "Café Lumière". There is a scene that pays unmistakable homage to Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s wistful portrait of urban solitude "Café Lumière", but the aimless melancholy is less effective in New York City than the rustic boroughs of Tokyo. And that is where the problems begin.

The cultural characteristics of the generation the film sensitively describes, which the successful parts of the film owe to, are also responsible for its downfalls. At times, the long shots are intruded before they achieve their full effect; and the sedation is often broken by unintentionally laughable phone calls and disheartening conversations. The dialogue, it should be noted by now, is not sharp, and is stained — authentically, I suppose — with the perils of "like"’s, "really"’s and "okay"’s. Sometimes they are sweet, but mostly it is annoying to walk into a cinema only to hear the kind of conversations that already go on for too much in everyday life.

The predictability of the story arc is its greatest fault. How does one break out of the cinematic cliché of young-adult emotional frustration and ambivalent (non-)courtships without compromising the value of the particular vitality and romanticism of the experience of this interval in life? The summer ends abruptly. It is a pity, for in the end, there is so little that resonate by a film so beautifully and sensibly shot.

The Exploding Girl will play at Camera 12, San Jose on March 6 at 6:45 p.m. Visit for details.