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High School Inessential

By Nicole Arthur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2001


    'crazy/beautiful' Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst in "crazy/beautiful." (Touchstone Pictures)
Wooo-hooo! This is apparently the mating call of the hard-partying Pacific Palisades girl, and the most frequently uttered noise in "crazy/beautiful," Touchstone Pictures' surprisingly mawkish teen film about what happens when a straight-arrow boy from working-class East L.A. falls for a delinquent classmate from the ritzy suburb. Presumably he's attracted by her continuous drunken whoop – that or her midriff, which is on view for most of the film. (Though the film credits a "street style expert," movie-goers may well wonder what street.)

The so-earnest-it-hurts production, directed by John Stockwell from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, chronicles the wildly implausible high school romance of Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst) and Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez). It turns out opposites attract: Nicole, the privileged daughter of a congressman, is a deadbeat stoner slut, Carlos a straight-A striver and star athlete who dreams of attending the Naval Academy. Conflict ensues, but surprises do not; there's never any reason to doubt that its resolution is any more than a tearful heart-to-heart talk away.

Nicole and Carlos meet while she's doing court-ordered maintenance at a public beach to atone for a DUI. (Hasn't he ever heard of a red flag?) He gets up every morning while it's still dark to make the bus to school, she sleeps off her hangovers in an all-glass hilltop house where the only Latina around is the maid. The attraction is unfathomable; the night they finally get together, she's slurring her words before he even gets into her car. And he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would enjoy a party so over the top it features indoor slam-dancing. But it's nothing love – make that a love montage – can't overcome.

In the film's press kit, the filmmakers repeatedly congratulate themselves for flouting long-obsolete stereotypes: Although he's from the wrong side of the tracks, she's the one who's bad news. Now there's an idea! Yet the film feels less like a serious drama than a desperate bid for the reinstitution of the halter top.

And while making a (relatively) serious teen film is a worthy enough goal, this movie is unlikely to sell anyone on the idea. Last year's Kirsten Dunst star vehicle, "Bring It On," had a similar message about cross-cultural understanding, but it was entertaining, too. "Crazy/beautiful" could have used a cheer or two. Not to mention the kind of idiocy that gives teen films their appeal in the first place. Where's the apple pie when you need it?

Another conspicuously absent teen film convention is the makeover scene. Indeed, the film's greatest suspense is provided not by Nicole's increasing loss of control and estrangement from her father, but the question of whether the character will finally wash her hair or put on a bra. (Answer: No and no. It's street style, after all.)

The movie is true to the genre however, in one pervasive way: its use of music. Make that overuse. There are 30 songs on the soundtrack to this 95-minute movie. You do the math. The music, which includes everyone from Collective Soul to Seven Mary Three, Cypress Hill to the Dandy Warhols, is at the forefront so often that the dialogue often seems little more than a way to mark time between music sequences. Oh, well, as they say in high school:


"crazy/beautiful" (PG-13, 95 minutes) – Contains sexual situations, drug and alcohol abuse and not much else. Area theaters.


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