“It was the year that everything happened,” explains Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) at both ends of her personal narrative which details the trials and tribulations of a sophisticated city girl being forced to relocate in Hicksville towards the end of high school. Lonely, isolated and worldly, the buxom beauty opts to show her disdain for her colleagues and promptly seduces her English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Josh Lucas).
Swirling around the “promise you won’t tell anyone” romance in the fictional town of Hargrove (Maple Ridge and Langley, B.C. are beautifully brought to cinematic life thanks to the inventive shot selections from cinematographer Jon Joffin) is an ever-growing industrial fire (no one could have realized how that incessant pollution would resonate so convincingly with present-day Japan), a serial killer (residents are encouraged to walk in pairs by ever-present warnings on the streets and in the washrooms of the largely nonplussed borough) and boredom-relieving drug dependencies that—it seems—keep the entire student population floating down the hallowed halls.
To keep the action moving/surprising, moody Thurston (Reece Thompson) becomes enamoured with the apparent “slut,” but is blissfully unaware of his new classmate’s predilection for older men. (Not coincidentally, this character’s first name is the same as Thurston Moore—a driving force behind Sonic Youth—see below). As the couplings become more frequent, it’s inevitable that some sort of dust up can be expected when Caroline’s double, er, dipping comes to light.
Director/writer Mike Goldbach’s first half of the film is engaging (telling individual stories while putting the main one on hold works well both for filling in backstory and teasing the outcomes that lie ahead), suspenseful (who is the “man in the white suit?”—with a delectable shade of grey served up red herring style) and masterfully balanced. Many of the send-ups (metropolis smarts vs. rural ignorance: including a Monica Lewinsky jibe) produce a few chuckles and the music (notably piano and trumpet bits courtesy of Ohad Benchetrit’s original score and songs from the likes of Sonic Youth whose own Daydream Nation hit the charts in 1988) adds much to the overall pace.
However, the second half of the production nearly drowns in convenient coincidences (car crashes begin to solve plot points at will) and unconvincing character shifts (mild-mannered, understandably horny prof suddenly going blonde pushes the envelope of credibility). What robs the ending of any real impact is the realization that both Caroline and Mr. A. are peas from the same pod: they feel their talents and allure deserve a much better shake from life than languishing in Nowhereville awaiting unreserved admiration and awe from their—deservedly—subservient beings. The early promise loses its punch, just as surely as the ravages of industrial waste will never be stopped. But, if one only looks at the entire situation from a much different point of view, then—magically—the world looks alright again.
Enjoy the film but be prepared to see it through rose-coloured glasses. JWR