Lara Jean Gallagher’s feature debut Clementine takes us on a slow journey filled with mystery and questions as it has the viewer sink into its interesting mood. Sadly it leads itself astray, but not enough to lose the audience.
Struggling to come to terms with her devastating break-up from girlfriend D, Karen (Otmara Marrero), drives to a remote cabin in the woods where they spent much of their relationship. Craving the closeness she once had with the love of her life, she breaks in and decides to stay. When the fresh-faced, care-free Lana (Sydney Sweeney), turns up searching for her lost dog, Karen feels like her solitude has been interrupted, but with Lana’s persistence, the pair begin to form a closeness.
Clementine very slowly builds for the first hour without ever truly letting us into the characters enough to feel something for them. They continually remain distant and aloof from us. The endless mystery of do we know anyone’s true intent never leaves us. We are continually on watch, as Karen is with everyone character, but also of Karen herself. We do not quite know what she may do or what she is capable of at the start. Only over time do we see this lost soul who just needs to get away to sort out her head, but her safe space is the one place she absolutely should not go to.
The film lives and dies by the performances of Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney and they have tremendous chemistry as Marrero’s Karen finds herself on the other side of a large age gapped relationship. Her mistrust of anyone due to the freshness of her breakup has her lost and wandering. She encapsulates that lost feeling of a big breakup of someone in their 20s.
Why Clementine eventually makes the decisions it does will take some time to decipher for audiences. Does Karen do what she does because of the new emotional role she gave herself with Lana? It seems quite the stretch to see where her character goes. Though immediately afterwards the regret is prevalent within her. She makes rash decisions because she doesn’t know what else to do. Marrero can carry her often dialogue-free scenes very well due to her expressive face. Karen becomes more and more lost in her situation, unable to control everything happening around her.
Sweeney on the other hand builds on her past credentials as the mysterious Lana, keeping the audience guessing on what she says is true or not. It can be a tough character to nail down when so little is presented about her, but she is more than capable here. She can ask the viewer questions with her performance. Is her mysterious nature due to her age, or is she setting a trap on Karen? Something never feels right with her character in this regard and it is down to Sweeney that we feel this way.
There are needless choices made here when we are finally given something to hold onto with these characters. We are quickly separated from them as if it was fleeting, meaningless. For this film, it needs those moments for us to connect and linger. There are no advantages to going slow for almost 70 minutes to then speed along for the last 30. This isn’t an action or horror, it is a drama and the pacing here is Clementine’s true negative.
This is a true shame as it is clear that writer-director Lara Jean Gallagher has a strong eye in her film and sets the mood perfectly. The entire film feels like a dream, a haze. Karen is stumbling from one moment to the other without ever being able to get a hold of herself and it is in those moments of Clementine that the film shines. With Gallagher and her two leads, we have three women who we need to keep a steady eye on in the future as they are ones to watch out for,
Part breakup part sexual awakening, Clementine, often leads itself astray with a narrative that doesn’t need to be as present as it thinks it does. Occasional distractions and tricks are handy here and there, but when it is forced on the viewer as it is her, it detracts instead of enhancing the overall picture. A decent film that like its lead, Karen, loses itself.
Clementine is available on Digital platforms now.
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