Review: ‘Kelly & Cal’ a solid but overreaching tale of outsiders
Putting its stamp on the odd-couple template, “Kelly & Cal” creates an unlikely romantic friendship between characters who are, in very different ways, caught between past and present. She’s a onetime punk rocker, emotionally stranded in new motherhood, a stalling marriage and la-di-da suburbia. He’s her neighbor, a wheelchair-bound high school senior feeling abandoned as he adjusts to life after a spinal cord injury.
Juliette Lewis and newcomer Jonny Weston bring terrific sensitivity to their roles. Her wild-and-dangerous screen past and experience fronting a band make her a perfect fit, and she delivers one of her finest performances.
Weston captures hyperintelligent Cal’s bitterness and hope. Until the film loses its footing in dramatic overreach, their chemistry is its driving force.
Written by Amy Lowe Starbin and directed by Jen McGowan, both first-timers, the feature is alive with interactions that feel spontaneous. Sharp-witted outsiders, Kelly and Cal spark each other’s rebelliousness. She’s drawn to her neighbor’s irreverence, excited by his brashness and youth.
During visits to Cal’s garage apartment, sometimes with her infant son, she finds an encouraging audience for her riot-grrrl reminiscences. The connection is a welcome relief from postpartum exhaustion, a seemingly nonresponsive husband (Josh Hopkins) and the passive-aggressive intrusions of her mother-in-law (Cybill Shepherd). She submits to the latter with a polite irony that’s unheroic and recognizable.
Kelly and Cal find inspiration in each other but also a retreat from the next steps in their lives. The screenplay cooks up big moments in its final, busy third, as the flirtation hits its inevitable danger point (with discomfiting nods to teen-romance tropes). Then come the lessons, and everyone does some growing up.
“Kelly & Cal.”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.
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