Kelly (Juliette Lewis) has just had a baby and moved to a new neighbourhood, she is struggling to connect with her baby, make friends and thinks her husband could be cheating on her. Along comes Cal (Jonny Weston), a sharp talking, filthy minded and reckless teenager, trying to come to terms with losing the use of his legs and hands and being in a wheelchair.
In their loneliness, the unlikely pairing gravitate towards each other and Cal encourages Kelly to reconnect with her past, she start playing guitar again and explores her riot girl roots. Of course with a 20 year age difference, a husband and an incredibly nosey family to get in the way, this isn’t all going to work out rosey, and the film plays out how Kelly deals with Cal’s growing and at times intimidating affection for her.
I’ve seen the film get compared online to Harold and Maude, however apart from the film featuring a relationship with a relatively large age gap, I didn’t really see many similarities. However, the film did very much remind me of last year’s Afternoon Delight directed by Jill Soloway (Transparent). Both on the subject, of a woman post-childbirth, dealing with life’s struggles and looking for excitement, but also the stylings, the mixture of humour and sadness. This is a comedy, and you will laugh your socks off, but there is also real drama in the film.
Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, Whip It) is fantastic to watch, and it is a pure joy to see a real woman in her late 30’s/early 40’s captured on screen, which sadly still seems like a rarity. There is nothing Hollywood about her, she wears minimal make up, wears unflashy clothes and looks beautiful. Cal really helps Kelly to reconnect with herself and her past in a way that she hasn’t really thought of, and seeing the process her character goes through and Lewis’ interpretation is inspirational.
Jonny Weston (Chasing Mavericks and the forthcoming Taken 3) plays Cal so well, his character reminiscent of Ansel Engort’s Gus in teen rom com The Fault in Our Stars, though perhaps more of a loose canon. He has a long way to go in coming to terms with what he’s been through and really needs Kelly’s friendship.
The film celebrates music and creativity as a method for connection and expression, Cal encourages Kelly to reconnect with her music and Kelly in return encourages Cal to find ways to continue own art. The musical influence to the movie is authentic and not at all forced as it can sometimes be in films. You want to believe that Kelly’s old Sleater-Kinney inspired band Wet Nap are real, seriously if they were they would be my new favourite band! Being a musician herself, Lewis was the perfect person to play Kelly and it’s great to see her rockin’ out and having fun with it.
Amazingly, this is the first feature for writer Amy Lowe Starbin and the first full-length feature for director Jen McGowan (though she has worked a number of other films including Boys Don’t Cry). Kelly and Cal is a strong debut for both of them, that I’m really excited to see what they both do next. The film also includes notable supporting roles from Cybil Shepherd (Cybil!), Margaret Collins (Gossip Girl, Three Men and a Baby) and John Hopkins (Cougar Town) who plays Kelly’s husband.
On paper this is a film tailor-made for me, there is a smart portrayal of a woman, an authentic musical influence, lots of ‘feelings’ and complicated characters to give a realistic perspective, enough comedy to keep you laughing throughout and yeah, a dance number to Bryan Adams. However, I totally appreciate that this will not appeal to everyone, so yes, if you’re not down with the above, this may not be the film for you, but if you are, then make sure you see this movie.
This review was originally posted in The People’s Movies