The Romance of Self-Destruction
Wanna be free? Drink a lot. Party. Find some good drugs and take them. If you’re still in school, skip a lot of classes and cease to give a shit about anything. Dress like a slob, and never wash your hair. Exude hurt, and behave like the world owes you an apology. All this will conspire to make you a spontaneous and fun person, and people will fall in love with you.
If you can arrange to have a rich, enabling father, this will make things far easier.
That’s pretty much the way the world works in Crazy/Beautiful, the latest unrealistically- expressive- high- schoolers- fall- in- mad- love- and- have-terrific- sex movie, this one from fairly novice director John Stockwell and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Bonus points to it for starting out as a serious, if tedious, exploration of young love, but all those points come back off for the appalling message it ultimately delivers.
Carlos Nuñez (Jay Hernandez) is the poor Hispanic boy from the wrong side of the freeway, hard-working and dedicated, the kind of kid who’ll travel two hours each way every day on a rickety school bus in order to go to a good school in a rich neighbor — he dreams of attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis and becoming a pilot someday. Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst: The Virgin Suicides, All I Wanna Do) is the poor little rich girl — abandoned by her absent mother, ignored by her father, Congressman Tom Oakley (Bruce Davison: X-Men, Apt Pupil) — for whom all of life is about showing oneself a good, intoxicated time. She’s the bad girl, he’s on the straight and narrow; he plays by the rules, she doesn’t have to.
Naturally, they fall in love.
Crazy/Beautiful is romantic fantasy: it’s high school as metaphor for being stuck in life. It has to be, because if we take Nicole and Carlos at face value, as real 17-year-olds, then the film’s attitude toward them and their situations is simply unforgivable. Tom has abdicated all responsibility as a parent, yet he is positioned as a tragic figure, one with whom we’re supposed to sympathize because he cannot contain his “out of control” daughter, even though he seemingly hasn’t tried a damn thing. Nicole’s stepmother, Courtney (Lucinda Jenney: Thirteen Days), is positioned as the bitch villain, though she is the one behaving like a parent — she is the only one stating the obvious, that Nicole needs psychiatric help and some serious detox. Carlos’s mom (Soledad St. Hilaire) knows that parenting sometimes means you have to bug your kids — Where are you going? Who are you seeing? When will you be home? — but she’s positioned as a nag.
And there’s Carlos and Nicole. It’s supposed to be a good thing that Carlos is “there” for Nicole, when no one else seems to be. But “being there” for her just sets him up for derailment off the path he knows he wants to be on… and it’s not that that doesn’t happen, that people don’t throw their lives away for someone they love. But Crazy/Beautiful doesn’t give the slightest indication that it realizes what lies at the end of the new path Carlos is choosing: Nicole will crash and burn, Daddy will bail her out, and Carlos will be left adrift. Carlos is ready to throw away his future for Nicole. Ain’t it romantic? They have better sex than lots of adults, they shower together, and he paints her toenails. But if he — or the filmmakers — have any indication of the difficult life he is in for with her, you’d never guess it by what’s onscreen.
It’s as if someone already on the road to self-destruction created Crazy/Beautiful to illustrate all those things self-destructive people fool themselves into believing about the people who want to help them: You don’t love me. You’re always on my case. All you straight people think you’re better than me. You’re just uptight.
But as anyone who’s ever had to deal with someone seemingly bent on killing himself can testify, it’s not fun, it’s not romantic, and it’s not easy. Crazy/Beautiful paints a glossy movie sheen over that reality, touching on it only from an enabler’s point of view. And we know how much self-destructive types love enablers.