By Matt Keay.
Opening cold at a party the night before the last day of high school, the unflinching portrait of ‘Low Low’ is scratched in from the outset. A girl describes the first time she saw a man naked. She can recall the colour of his crotch; the way the experience made her feel, how she felt sorry for the man in question.
Then, she tells the nervous boy sharing the bed with her that she was only six at the time, and the man was one of her mother’s numerous one night stands, kicked out of her bed and relegated to the couch. The girl immediately follows this story with a come on to the virginal partygoer beside her, removing her underwear, claiming, accusatorially, ‘We don’t have to do anything’. There is a clear dichotomy here between the assured, experienced young woman, and the uncertain, unsophisticated boy, which courses through the veins of Nick Richey’s debut feature.
’Low Low’ concerns the exploits of four girls. Candace (Montana Roesch), Lana (Kacie Rogers), Willy (Alexis Raich), and Ryan (Ali Richey) are poised at the precipice of impending adulthood, determined to support each other through the trials of teenaged angst, yet mindful of the paths they could be forced to trudge down come the end of their last summer together. Drugs, sex, unplanned pregnancy, violence.
These are everyday experiences for these girls, from broken homes, fighting against authority, adversity, and whoever stands in their way. The quartet have to face the reality of the group fracturing; Candace prepares to leave for college, Lana and Willy are set to stay behind, and Ryan remains hopeful in passing her GED and moving into higher education, too.
Along the way, there are numerous teenage-centric quests to fulfil; the ending of Cherry’s romance with her boyfriend (he’s not going to college with her), for instance, and the smoothing of Ryan’s stunted relationship with her mother, the dynamic of which is poisonous, at best. The tying-up of loose ends results in fireworks between the girls, as they question not only their own places in the world, but their importance in each other’s lives.
The film’s strength is in the rich, naturalistic performances of the four leads. The chemistry between them is convincing and infectious, regardless of the situations they find themselves in. They are each at once vulnerable and arresting, capable of a huge range. (There is a particularly darkly comic scene involving the procurement of a Plan-B pill for Willy which tests the chops of all involved.) Plus, the film looks great, all woozy and sun-addled by day, pitch and suburban by night.
However, there is nothing new here. Richey borrows aspects of many coming-of-age dramas and teen comedies. For as many debts to ‘Kids’, ‘Stand By Me’, or recent HBO show ‘Euphoria’, there are licks of ‘Clueless’, ’10 Things I Hate About You’, and even the ‘Scream’ franchise. It feels manufactured, and disingenuous. (The mean streets of Vancouver, Washington, are in reality filmed in Los Angeles, conversely, which really amps up the artifice.)
In truth, Richey’s wearing of his influences on his sleeve appears to be more a matter of expediency than intent. ‘Low Low’ loses steam in the third act, slipping under the heft of the previous hour, selling the emotional weight of its emotional conclusion short. It’s a party at which I wouldn’t want to stay too long.
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