It’s easy to see why 20-something Laurel would want to switch places with her twin sister, Audrey, the title character of “The Pretty One.” Mousy and painfully shy, Laurel lives at home with her widowed father; she’s secretly dating a high schooler, dresses in her late mother’s retro clothes and spends her days painting replicas of masterpieces. The perfectly coiffed Audrey, on the other hand, moved out long ago. She owns a house, works in real estate and has a suave older boyfriend.
So when the twins get into a car crash and Audrey dies, Laurel decides not to correct people when they confuse her for her sister. She’ll just continue to live Audrey’s life and blame any weirdness on her post-crash amnesia.
It would take a lot of charm for “The Pretty One” to overcome that creepy premise, but the movie doesn’t have it.
Zoe Kazan does her best. The actress plays both Audrey and Laurel, and she tries mightily to add some cuteness to Laurel’s embarrassing awkwardness, but the results are mixed. Laurel has to fake her way through all kinds of interactions, from her relationship with a married man (Ron Livingston) to her job to seeing her best friend, Claudia (Frances Shaw). But most of the movie is spent on Laurel’s relationship with Audrey’s tenant, Basel (Jake Johnson), who lives next door. Audrey and Basel had a contentious relationship, and yet he doesn’t balk when his landlord is suddenly sweet and romantically interested.
When it comes to assumed identities, part of the drama comes from the fear of being unmasked. Yet as strangely as Laurel acts, no one suspects a thing. If she wanted to, she could go on living as Audrey forever. Where’s the tension in that?
Other threads of the plot are similarly anemic. Laurel believes that Audrey is the only person who truly understood and loved her, and yet the surviving twin never seems to deeply mourn the loss. Yes, she attends a Twins Without Twins group meeting and, yes, she places her hand over the reflection of herself in the rearview mirror, but that’s about it. We never feel her grief. It would appear that all it took for Laurel to forget about her closest friend is a cute new neighbor.
The film’s one bright spot is Johnson, who’s turning into an unlikely leading man. From “The New Girl” to “Drinking Buddies,” he always seems to be playing an aspiring curmudgeon, and yet there’s something endearing and natural about him.
For all its intimations about finding one’s true self and the complicated setups for a big misidentification, “The Pretty One” is just another romantic dramedy.
R. At AMC Hoffman Center 22. Contains language and sexual situations. 90 minutes.