Exasperating for its mundane narrative of youthful non-courtship camouflaged by Manhattan street-video naturalism, The Exploding Girl occasionally suggests mumblecore with less improvisation and heaps of undergrad preciousness in place of snarky irony. Zoe Kazan is Ivy, a Björkish-pigtailed college student home in New York for the summer, where she gives her displaced BFF Al (Mark Rendall), a gangly pothead and enthusiastic biology student, space on the couch. In between visits to her dance-teacher mother’s class and largely unanswered phone calls to a neglectful, obviously exit-seeking boyfriend, Ivy encourages a compulsively lingering Al to party through the season without her, and assures her doctor that she’s careful about managing her epilepsy, which results in a seizure only when she’s “stressed out.” Bradley Rust Gray’s feature shares some themes with his wife So Yong Kim’s winter portrait of a young couple at a crossroads, In Between Days, which he co-wrote and produced, but Exploding Girl is a less forceful variation on the earlier work’s patterns, partly because Ivy and Al’s passivity seems like a side effect of larger, unstated issues. (Or perhaps such pure fear and clumsiness in fledgling affairs of the heart is most compelling to 20-year-olds.) Ivy’s regularly vibrating cellphone, over which she conducts a score of trivial negotiations with Al, marks her primarily as a buzzing girl at the core, but Gray’s awkward title metaphor ensures that once Al stops dithering about evolutionary theory and asks to know where he stands, Ivy will physically manifest their dual stress before it can be cornily resolved at a rooftop bird coop and in a backseat. It’s a ponderous inflation of a couple of cute white kids slacking around Gotham ’til September.
The Exploding Girl @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.