What would "The Pretty One" be without Zoe Kazan's pixieish melancholy and offbeat comic timing? Not much. In writer-director Jenée LaMarque's twee indie, Kazan does double duty, playing mousy rural Laurel, who lives with her parents, as well as sister Audrey, the popular one with the big city job and boyfriend (Ron Livingston).
After a car accident kills Audrey and briefly gives Laurel amnesia, the wallflower takes advantage of the identity confusion and claims to be Audrey, adopting her sister's life as a kind of instant — albeit psychologically fraught — personality injection. The high-wire act LaMarque attempts is a kind of adorkable identity trauma, bewildering when in romantic comedy mode with Jake Johnson's friendly next-door neighbor (who thought Audrey hated him), then buzz-kill dreary once Laurel's gambit blows up and actual grief has to be addressed. (Although John Carroll Lynch, as the girls' father, shines in these moments.)
Had the movie itself been more focused as a story of messy loss — and not played tonal Twister with its high concept — it might have better served its freshly oddball lead. When you feel for Laurel's predicament, it's invariably due to the appealing glint of sad/crazy/yearning coming from Kazan's lollipop mug.
"The Pretty One." MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood; University Town Center in Irvine.
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