Friday, March 12, 2010

Ivy League

On the rooftop: Best friends Al (Mark Rendall) and Ivy (Zoe Kazan) watch a flock of pigeons take flight.

The Exploding Girl
Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray
Starring Zoe Kazan and Mark Rendall

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

This is not a movie that explodes—which is fine, since we have more than enough of those. The titular “exploding girl” of the film, Ivy (Zoe Kazan), who has epilepsy, wanders the downtown streets of New York with cell phone always in hand. On vacation from college, both she and her best friend, Al (Mark Rendall), are staying with her mother (Maryann Urbano). Although both her mom and Al care for her almost to the point of coddling, Ivy seems to need to talk to her boyfriend, Greg, who’s apparently in another town, almost constantly. It’s clear from the beginning, however, that Greg does not feel the same involvement. Why Ivy needs to hide this from those who love her is not so clear, but watch Kazan’s face as she sits with Al, not telling him—the most active and mesmerizing silence I think I’ve ever seen; I felt as though I were being pulled into the screen. (The lack of music only intensifies the scene.) Kazan’s Everygirl looks, with chipmunk cheeks (“She’s so cute!” a woman behind me at the screening kept squealing), only add to the film’s naturalism.

This is a movie that takes its time. When Ivy cries as Al holds her, we, as he, simply have to wait for her. And because it’s Kazan, we do. Kazan, is, by the way, the granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan, and writer-director Bradley Rust Gray includes a lovely homage to On the Waterfront, when Al—whose interest in Ivy goes beyond their friendship—takes Ivy to see pigeons being kept on a rooftop.

Aside from the pigeons and a couple of parties, not a lot happens in this film, and I’m not sure it could have been a film without Zoe Kazan—Gray has said that as soon as he imagined the character of Ivy, he thought of Kazan—but perhaps that’s irrelevant: It’s a delicate work, restrained and rewarding, as long as you, like Al, have some patience.

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