Following in the steps of Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999) and wife So Yong Kim’s In Between Days (2006), which he co-wrote with her, Bradley Rust Gray has taken the title of The Exploding Girl from another song by the British rock group The Cure, whose bleeding lyric for the 1985 “The Exploding Boy” includes the following:
I couldn’t hear a word you said
I couldn’t hear at all
you talked until your tongue fell out . . .
tell yourself we’ll start again
tell yourself it’s not the end . . .
The film’s protagonist is teenaged Ivy (luminous Zoe Kazan, Elia’s granddaughter—best actress, Tribeca), who is back with her mother in New York City, on summer break from Ithaca College. Joining them is longtime platonic friend Al, whose parents, professing confusion as to his arrival date, but probably hiding financial duress, rented out his room in his absence without telling him. (Not this or anything else in Gray’s brilliant script seems contrived; everything, here, weighs, breathes.) Meanwhile, Ivy’s cell-phone conversations with college boyfriend Greg, in his unidentified hometown, indicate their relationship is slipping away from her.
What a beauteous film this is, fresh, detailed, unsentimental, unmelodramatic—devastating. Ivy has epilepsy—but its control is part of her (and, necessarily sometimes, her mother’s) routine; it isn’t an exploitable convenience. The seizure we do see is in long-shot, with Al’s assistance partially obstructing our view. Being epileptic is just one more thing with which Ivy must cope; she is also afflicted with loneliness and timidity—things that some of us learn eventually, better than others, to cover up. Al also has these problems; fearful he might lose their cherished friendship, he therefore quickly withdraws a romantic overture that has the potential to heal them both, at least for a bit.
Girls and boys have always had these problems; but no other film shows more convincingly how technology—here, cell-phones—deepens them, generating more intense loneliness and timidity by pressing the illusion of broadening and compounding communication.
Gray and Kim superbly edited.
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