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7 out of 10

An above-average story of star-crossed lovers...great performances somewhat wasted. See it for Dunst's acting, and for the movie it's trying to be.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

I've always been a sucker for high school movies. I have enjoyed several that have come out in the past few years, such as 10 Things I Hate About You and (to a lesser extent) She's All That, despite and/or because of their silliness, although I thought they both resorted to gross-out humor too often (as most movies in the genre now do). In many ways crazy/beautiful is far superior to those movies, but it is also more disappointing. You see, most teen movies aren't great, but aren't trying to be: they're just fun. This movie flirts with greatness, and despite some great aspects, stumbles quite a bit. Nice effort, but it's nearly as disappointing as it is fulfilling.

The best part by far is Kirsten Dunst as Nicole. I've been racking my brain for any performance in a teen movie that comes close, and can't come up with one. The character is, quite simply, way more like real people than movie people tend to be: likeable and wonderful in her own way, but not without hangups and flaws--some of them downright disturbing, such as the ease with which she lies to Carlos, played thoughtfully by Jay Hernandez, about her mother. I liked the anti-glam way Dunst was dressed, as well as the way they did (or didn't do) her hair and make up. This is a character that is not glamorized physically or emotionally, and in less talented hands the character would have come off as just annoying. Dunst is thoroughly engaging, and I found myself caring about her.

The movie had many other nice touches. I liked the memory book pages Nicole made. Some critics said the soundtrack was obtrusive, but it didn't bother me. Maybe that's a generation gap. I'm 28 years old, and I grew up on 1980's teen comedies that lived or died by their soundtracks. c/b seemed to have a decent one.

The characters around the lead couple are decently played, if not that well developed. They are mostly props for what takes place between Carlos and Nicole, and that ends up working against the movie when the romantic storyline fizzles at the end.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching scene for me was when Carlos brought Nicole to a wedding party (or maybe a quinceanera) without letting her know that's what it was. Besides being the only "white" person among a group of Hispanic people, she is also horribly underdressed. Her discomfort is tangible as she escapes into the bathroom, looks in the mirror, and expresses her disgust with herself. That disgust sums up the way Carlos' mother, and his community in general, reacts to Nicole. The implication is that they want him to end up with one of his "own kind," such as the minor character Luz (pronounced "loose," for you non-Spanish readers). For his family and friends, Nicole (somewhat justifiably) represents a distraction from where he's trying to go in life, and a dead-end relationship. Director John Stockwell sets up the conflicting feelings of Carlos very well, but never shows us how Carlos resolves them. They just go away in a contrived happy ending. The fact that the guy from the poor neighborhood is the one who seems to have it all together rather than the rich girl is certainly a change, but in the end, why does he stay with her? How does he deal with his family's opinion of her, some of which couldn't help but creep into his own thinking? You come aways suspecting that the issues haven't been dealt with, but have been pushed aside in the rush of hormones and the excitement of first love (or first true love, anyway). Which is fine, I suppose, except that it almost certainly would doom a real-life relationship, which is why the happy-ever-after ending seems hokey.

Also badly glossed over are Nicole's assorted problems. She's shown as an alcoholic, or very close to it, drinking or drunk--and often stoned--in the vast majority of the movie's first half. She lies to cover her insecurities (resulting from her mother's abandonment, etc.). Her congressman father, played well by Bruce Davison, tries to avoid dealing with her, clearly preferring to invest himself in his current wife (a one-dimensional character with no redeeming qualities...insert garden-variety evil stepmother here) and their young child. In the end, the movie seems to want us to believe that all of the problems I've just mentioned are magically defeated by true love. The father is now going to instantly balance his emotional life and be there for Nicole like he should have all along. Nicole is going to stop drinking, lying, being promiscuous, and generally rebelling. Carlos' family is going to...what? And what about the fact that he walked out on his final exams? The consequences of his choice are not explored, but apparently disappear along with Nicole's destructive behavior and the baggage of her messed-up family.

Still, I would rather have a movie try for emotional depth, even if the result is emotionally unsatisfying. Just about all of the acting is top-notch, and Kirsten Dunst fulfills more fully than ever before the promise shown early in her career (e.g. her knockout performance in Interview with the Vampire at age 11). That such a rare performance in the genre is watered down by the story's adherence to convention is unfortunate, but it remains a must-see performance.

Worth renting? Yes.
Worth buying? Maybe.
Suitable for kids? Probably not, and parents of preteens/teens will want to ensure their kids get the point that certain behaviors portrayed are not meant as good things.
Year: 2001
Director: John Stockwell
Running Time: 95 minutes (135 min. director's cut)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving teens, drug/alcohol content, sexuality & language.

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Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written July 13, 2001.

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