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Kelly & Cal is Jen McGowan’s first feature film after doing several highly regarded short films. Amy Lowe Starbin’s screenplay begins with new mother “Kelly,” (Juliette Lewis) visiting the gynecologist for her six-week examination after the birth of her son Jackson. The doctor gives Kelly the all clear for resuming sexual relations with her husband and everything looks fine, but by the look on Kelly’s face, everything’s not fine. She’s seemingly stranded in a life that she’s not coping with very well.
Kelly’s frustrations intensify as she tries and fails to soothe her fussy baby. Not being able to calm him is obviously communicating itself to the baby and the he fusses even more, continuing the vicious cycle. When her laid-back husband “Josh,” (Josh Hopkins) holds the baby, however, he’s instantly pacified, which of course makes Kelly feel even worse.
To ease her stress, Kelly retreats to her extremely nice, suburban backyard to sneak a cigarette and sees “Cal,” (Johnny Weston) her teenage neighbor. Kelly gets up to leave when she’s annoyed at his inappropriate comments, but feels terrible when she looks over the fence and sees him in a wheelchair. At another attempt to calm her baby down, she decides to take him for a walk in his stroller and sure enough, he loves it. In the course of long walks around the neighborhood, Kelly runs into Cal again, visiting his house and discovering his musical talents. Having lost his muscular control to play the guitar, Cal has taken to the drums to utilize his upper body strength. It turns out that Kelly used to be a punk rocker of the “riot girl” variety in her past life and she and Cal start bonding over their love of music.
I hated this movie. It was totally unbelievable, from the terrible acting to the characters and their unrealistic, intimate attachment. Let’s start with the most notable problem for me: What year is this supposed to be happening? Punk rocking was back in the ‘90s and Zines were back in the ’90s. When Kelly goes into her hope chest and pulls out a cassette recorder and cassettes and old mimeographed or Xerox zines, the timeline is skewed. She appears to be in her late 30s and obviously liked the music a long time ago, yet the Stepford world she lives in where the mothers are all home while husbands are off at work throws is unrealistic. What was she supposed to have been doing with herself from the time that she was recording cassettes and to the current day, at least 10 or 15 years later having first child Jackson? I don’t get that at all.
As Kelly becomes more restless, she gets more visits from Josh’s mother “Bev,” (Cybill Shepherd), and his sister, “Julie,” (Lucy Owen), having conversations that are tremendously inappropriate. Again, it’s hard to figure out why Bev and Julie have nothing better to do than show up every afternoon to spend time with Kelly. At one point, Julie has a meltdown because she’s consumed with envy of Kelly’s wonderful husband, baby, and house – everything Julie wants. But do we know why? Do we know what Julie’s problem is? Is she divorced? Do we know anything about Julie or anything other than the fact that she’s a woman in her middle 30s with nothing better to do then go over in the afternoons to her sister-in-law’s? There isn’t an answer. When Bev drops off lasagna, Josh comes home all excited because he gets to eat his mom’s food, adding to the creepiness of the Stepford wife-y world that made me crazy.
To relive her rocker roots, Kelly goes up into the bathroom and emerges at a family barbeque with incredibly fake-looking turquoise blue hair. Of course Cal loves the outrage of it, but everybody else thinks Kelly has gone off the deep end. The next thing she knows, Bev has shown up with some makeover person who covers Kelly in makeup and dresses her in these Stepford wife outfits. They turn her hair from turquoise blue to brown again, and it’s unclear what they want to accomplish. Cal, thinking this is hilariously funny, throws her a hoodie and tells her to cover up the stupid clothes. In the same sequence, Julie is shoving cards at her to go see a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression. It was bizarre to me as to what was supposed to be going on.
There’s a distance that Kelly has with her husband and it’s strongly implied that his long work hours are covering up an affair. Because of Josh’s lack of sexual interest in Kelly, she turns to Cal for comfort and friendship – and he, of course, wants more than that. After an accident that injured his spine, crippled Cal’s girlfriend dumped him for his best friend and since the prom is coming up, he wants Kelly to go with him. (I mean what is this?) While Josh thinks Kelly is at a benefit to help the handicapped, she’s actually making a ridiculous makeshift prom for Cal, getting all dressed up and going to the empty high school gym to do a wheelchair dance.
What was really irritating to me was how baby Jackson seems to appear and disappear according to the needs of the plot. Sometimes he’s out of sight and nobody’s caring about him and other times he’s cooing or crying. The random and manipulative writing made no sense to me in addition to the atrocious acting. I didn’t believe a word of it. The only redeemable character was nicely grounded Bev, not overreacting the way all the other characters were. She gives Kelly a nice little talk one day where Bev basically says, “You know, things don’t always work out the way we think they will and you just have to be patient.” Cybill Shepherd gives her character a believable, grounded quality, which was the only thing in the movie that I liked at all.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (9/13/14)
Top Photo: Juliette Lewis as “Kelly”
Bottom Photo: Juliette Lewis as “Kelly” and Josh Hopkins as “Josh”
Yes, it does pass the Bechdel Test – that’s the good news – but, no, it’s not a good movie. Ironically, Richard really liked it, and I don’t know what to make of that. He liked it. He believed it. He found it touching. And what can you say? Split decision from Jan and Rich.