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When twenty-year-old Ivy heads home Spring Break with a fresh romance in her heart, everything seems to be going perfectly. When her best friend Al finds himself without lodgings, Ivy and her mother take him in and Ivy and Al's friendship strengthens while her boyfriend grows more distant from afar. Increasingly distressed about her conflicting feelings, Ivy must stay resilient in the face of her epilepsy, lest her emotions become something she can't control. Marking Zoe Kazan's first leading role, Bradley Rust Gray's film is a meditative and realistic portrait of a young girl coming of age and finding a deeper kind of love in New York City.
The Exploding Girl is a rather sleepy coming-of-age tale whose title sequence depicting the girl, Ivy (Zoe Kazan), snoozing in a moving car while sunlight beautifully filters through trees onto her face, sets the tone of the entire feature. With a minimal plot that follows Ivy leaving for spring break from New York to visit her mom (Maryann Urbano); meeting up with her friend Al (Mark Rendall), who needs a place to crash; and then experiencing subtle ups and downs with her boyfriend, Greg, who exists solely as a cell phone voice, The Exploding Girl feels more like a trickle than an explosion. In many parts, the film functions better as a character study than plot-driven adventure, since Ivy as an epileptic struggles to care for herself and realizes in various moments her reliance on loved ones. As the story progresses and the viewer realizes that little will happen other than Ivy's inner debates about boys and her return from spring break back to what looks like the New York University campus, one might be best off enjoying this film's visual and sonic atmospherics. Sunlight and breeze airs this youthful drama out, making for some lovely sequences in which city noises are tempered by calming nature. Also as the story progresses and Ivy's alliance with Al strengthens, moments of scenic beauty become more obviously punctuated metaphor for Ivy's inner emotional tenor. Toward the end, for example, when Al shows Ivy his rooftop pigeon coops, the characters' peace flows on screen in some palpable way. Given the extras on this DVD, young director Brad Rust Grey's chiaroscuro student film about young adults making out, plus a music video in which crushed-out college students obsessively check their cell phones, one wonders if Grey might become the next John Hughes. Conversely, the characters in The Exploding Girl are much more melancholic than were Hughes's charismatic stars like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. The Exploding Girl seeps into the mind, slowly and carefully, with little of the comedy Hughes went for, but it does investigate a younger generation's mode of romantic communication. In this way, one can look forward to Grey's subtle treatments of twentysomethings in future projects. --Trinie Dalton
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Every phone conversation starts like this. The only difference, sometimes Ivy doesn't say hey a second time.
Not much happens in this film. Ivy and Al arrive at her mother's New York City house for summer college break. Ivy is involved with a faceless person that we get to know through their phone calls (mostly voice mail). Al ends up staying at Ivy's house; his parents have converted his room into a Tantric Sex room. The passage of time isn't obvious, it looks like only a few nights, but in reality the film spans most of the summer.
Exploding Girl is a slow moving, delicate, independent film. Shot with a Red Digital camera, every shot is rock solid, with minimal panning. Each scene is very carefully constructed and deliberate, the director uses framing effectively. Unfortunately, not every single shot is in focus. Even with this sometimes major fault, I loved this film. The director uses very slow pacing, shots run on for a good long time. The editing matches the feel of the film, take time to get to know the character and what they just did. Frequently foreground objects obstruct the frame. In the subway, it turns out none of this was planned; they bootlegged filming in the subway as described in the bonus making of featurette.
This is a sensual film. The chemistry between Ivy and Al develops slowly. Ivy is shy, Al is a bit more outgoing, but not by much. There is no nudity. There is one scene where Al and another girl smoke marijuana. I don't recall any strong language. The scene where Ivy has a seizure is done from a distance, but it is very clear what is happening.
I loved the character development. It felt like real life, getting to know Ivy and Al, and peripherally her mother and the disembodied boy friend, slowly. At about an hour and twenty minutes, the film seems like it is the right length.
This isn't a film for everyone. My enjoyment of this film is the careful framing, slow editing, muted colors, and slow character development. I liked these two characters.
Ivy (Zoe Kazan) is a college student who returns back home to Brooklyn for summer break. Her kind-natured childhood friend, Al (Mark Rendall), needs a place to stay over the summer and rooms with Ivy and her mother. As the summer progresses Ivy's increasingly disinterested boyfriend, Greg, ends their relationship via cellphone. Ivy's a sensitive soul struggling with epilepsy, keeping her emotions wrapped up tightly inside. Her faithful friend, Al, reaches out as Ivy sinks into despair. Will Ivy reach back? Will romance spark?
The Exploding Girl is a sweet, little film which explores the angst of young love. Zoe Kazan, the granddaughter of legendary film director, Elia Kaza, gives a wonderfully touching performance. Rendall does a nice job as Ivy's good-hearted friend. Eric Lin's cinematography is exquisite. The pigeon scene near the end of this film is clearly an homage to Zoe's grandfather's masterpiece, On the Waterfront.
Thank God for independent filmmakers. You'll never see a movie like The Exploding Girl from Hollywood.