The young pregnant teen movie is hardly virgin territory for filmmakers.
The film Juno, starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera is the best example. Even the college romance genre has been summited, as far back as 1977, with First Love, a largely forgettable movie featuring Susan Dey and William Katt, unless you want to see the former Partridge sweetheart in a decidedly unwholesome role.
However, The Young Kieslowski does takes a slightly different tack on the boy meets girl, they sleep together once, and she’s pregnant story.
For starters, writer-director Kerem Sanga’s second film is told from the point of view of Brian Kieslowski. He’s a physics major at Cal Tech, who meets upperclassman Leslie Mallard, the daughter of a popular writer of right wing military fiction at a party. Alcohol is consumed. Then the aforementioned hookup ensues. Then Leslie is left to face the aftermath alone as Brian has lost her phone number, and he can’t seem to remember exactly where she lives.
Leslie has a strained relationship with her father, while Brian is dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer. In a nice coup for Sanga, he snared Josh Molina (The West Wing, Scandal) to play Brian’s father Robert.
The story unfolds through Brian’s first person narration and a few fantasy sequences, where he imagines how his life might unfold as he deals with his mother’s illness, and the unexpected news of his impending fatherhood. He has to tell his parents, as well has to accompany Leslie as she faces her father, who apparently was a young parent, and wants a different fate for his only daughter.
Brian struggles with what he wants, what Leslie needs, and his self esteem. Naturally, he freaks out, which is the basis for much of the movie’s comedic undertones.
Ryan Malgarini, who could easily pass for a young Andy Kaufman, has some incredibly expressive eyes, which deepen his emotional level in the film. Too bad there wasn’t a great deal more screen time for Haley Lu Richardson, who has several television guest shots on her resume. Even glammed down, she still appears very pretty on screen, and one would wonder how her character, a self professed anti-social, virginal Christian, doesn’t have any serious male suitors.
One might have dismissed the movie as just another teen/college messed up romance, but a second casual viewing revealed a layer of depth that isn’t so obvious as one followed the plot the first time around.
Intentional or not, the use of water, in the way of the campus fountains, and the ocean by the Mallard’s beachfront house, appeared as a subtext for life and the endless sea of choices. Osric Chau (from TV’s Supernatural) plays Brian’s roommate, and steals a few scenes with great comic timing. While they don’t make rational sense, some of Brian’s illogical choices appear much clearer as well. Melora Walters (Big Love, Magnolia, The Butterfly Effect) has a nice turn as Brian’s mother, whose cancer prognosis enables her to remove her own personal filter, resulting in some frank and all too honest moments that make Brian cringe.
Also, the movie passes the geographical detail reality test. When Brian heads to Cal Tech Pasadena campus or home, he can be seen driving on the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. It may not matter to 95% of the audience, but it does to a purist. Who remembers When Harry Met Sally? Early on, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are driving from the University of Chicago, on the south side of the Windy City to New York, yet somehow their car is traveling north on Lake Shore Drive. Laughable to anyone who knows Chicago geography.
In summary, the combination of the inner monologue, quirky characters, and plot subtext, makes this a worthwhile watch, but it needs to be viewed at least twice. Rent it or watch on demand. In limited release, and on Amazon Instant Video. Sanga won an audience award at the LA Film Festival for his sophomore effort. This isn’t necessarily a date night movie, unless you are in a solid relationship.
My rating – a triple – three stars.