Lara Jean Gallagher’s fractured tale of female friendship stumbles once it falls into thriller territory.
Clementine, written and directed by Lara Jean Gallagher, is a gorgeous but slight film bolstered by two excellent leading performances and one of the most enviable on-screen houses in recent memory. Unfortunately, the story itself seems to owe more to any number of “sad woman in peril” movies than it does the coming-of-age-and-self themes it’s going for.
Clementine focuses on Karen (Otmara Marrero), a young woman who, following a breakup, hides away in her ex’s fantastic lake house in Oregon. Her ex D., we learn over time, is an older woman (Sonya Walger), an artist who cheated on Karen and promptly shut her entirely out of their shared life, changing the locks on their former home so that Karen cannot even get their dog.
At the lakehouse, Karen meets Lana (Sydney Sweeney), a young local by whom Karen is almost immediately enchanted despite her suspicions of Lana’s stories. The two develop an instantly close friendship, the sort that is destined to implode, smoking pot and telling secrets, while all the while the phone keeps ringing and Beau (Will Brittain), another local, starts hanging around as well. Nothing about this little interlude can last, of course, and it’s in the aftermath of this idyll that Clementine falls apart.
Clementine is a tale about friendship and self-discovery that is packaged wholesale in a thriller’s clothing and that misconception fails the story. The music is tense, building towards scares and revelations that never arrive. A series of prime dramatic events occur that ultimately mean nothing. When Karen first arrives at the lakehouse (a set designed for a Lifetime movie with Chekov’s literal gun in a drawer), she breaks in and injures her hand, a wound that receives more attention than it ever merits.
Granted, lies are an important theme of the narrative and Karen repeatedly lies about how she got the injury, but the emphasis placed upon it, particularly by Beau, who treats it as evidence that Karen might be suicidal, is just too much.
D. texts Karen early on to only say “I know you’re at the lakehouse”, an ominous message that is entirely undercut when D. later calls and gives Karen permission to stay there. Lana and Karen meet when the former asks for help finding her possibly fictional dog, and Karen is clearly unnerved by driving the dark roads at night with a stranger until the dog is found. By the time an actual conflict emerges in the latter portion of the film, it’s hard to believe that anything is really going to happen, and what does happen is never truly earned.
Clementine is a tale about friendship and self-discovery that is packaged wholesale in a thriller’s clothing and that misconception fails the story.
The film’s strengths are in the main performances. Marrero is heartbreaking as a woman who realizes that she hasn’t allowed herself to grow within the space of her relationships–she shares a favorite song that she found via a college crush, and defends D.’s art from Lana’s dismissal, but there seems to be very little that Karen has every found for herself.
She makes frequent reference to age. She is old, Lana is young, while D. was too old. Karen is 29, hardly old by anyone’s definition, but having drifted until finding herself in her present circumstance (and compared to Lana), she thinks that she’s finished. Sweeney, as the younger free spirit Lana, has a sweet/cynical take on a character that could too easily be just another whimsical bohemian cliche. Unlike Karen, Lana longs for age, to be older and have more control over her life. She’s tired of her small town and sees the isolation and quiet that Karen ran towards as a boring trap to escape. Sweeney plays Lana as a lovely enigma, at once too open and extremely unknowable.
Clementine is a beautiful film with incredible sound, like a picturesque ASMR video. Crackling fires, scratching pencils, the ringing of D.’s old-fashioned house phone, even the whisk of a broom on the floor combine to create a homey atmosphere that belies the tension between the characters. Unfortunately, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and Andres Karu’s cinematography isn’t enough to keep Clementine from becoming anything but an exquisitely crafted but ultimately hollow shell. Sorry, Karen, we’re all tired too.
Clementine will be available on VOD on May 8th.
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