dir-scr Richard Bates Jr
prd Dylan Hale Lewis
with AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, Molly McCook, Natalie Dreyfuss, Cole Bernstein, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Ray Wise, John Waters
release US 19.Oct.12, UK 2.Nov.12
12/US 1h21
Teen with a plan: McCord

bart mcdowell matlin
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Excision Whether this is a horror movie or a coming-of-age drama is up for discussion, but there's no doubt that this film is both blackly hilarious and deeply unsettling. It also has some darkly provocative things to say about the effects of social dynamics. Although you could argue that this girl's particular case is rather extreme.

Pauline (McCord) is a teen outcast with delusions of grandeur. She's sure she'll become a surgeon so she can help cure her sister Grace (Winter), who has cystic fibrosis. Pauline practices her "medical" skills by piercing her nose, but her mother (Lords) isn't having it. She makes no pretence that she doesn't like Pauline, and she also treats her husband (Bart) with disdain while doting on Grace. Meanwhile, Pauline approaches a cool guy (Sumpter) at school about losing her virginity, mainly to annoy his snooty girlfriend (McCook). He doesn't say no.

The film is packed with jagged characters who add to the anarchic tone. Waters is a sardonic priest Pauline has to talk to since her parents can't afford a proper psychiatrist. Matlin, McDowell and Wise are short-tempered school employees who are baffled by Pauline's refusal to fit in. And as the story develops, our laughter gets increasingly nervous because Pauline's medically grisly dreams start to become more and more horrifically persistent. She's clearly planning something, but like everyone around her we could never guess what it might be.

Writer-director Bates gleefully keeps us off-balance all the way through, while McCord's full-on comical performance is like a character from a Todd Solondz movie: Pauline isn't quite as grotesque as she or everyone around her thinks she is. The trickier roles go to Sumpter as the pathetic hunk, and Dreyfuss as a neighbour who taunts Pauline more out of ignorance than cruelty.

In some ways, the film's abruptly nerve-jangling conclusion leaves the film feeling a bit simplistic, as it doesn't really tell us anything that the filmmakers haven't already said. But it sends us out of the cinema with the same gob-smacked look on our faces as the characters have. And it reminds us of the movies' real power to tell a story that works on a variety of levels and makes us feel a rush of conflicting emotions.

cert 15 themes, violence 2.Oct.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall