Kelly & Cal movie review (London Film Festival)

Kelly and Cal green light

A simple, honest, deeply satisfying tale of the complex mixed emotions and desires that make up a woman’s life and often exist in secret.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is why we need more women making movies. This is the sort of movie we simply don’t get when it’s always men telling their stories. Kelly & Cal, the feature debut of both director Jen McGowan and screenwriter Amy Lowe Starbin, is a simple, honest, deeply satisfying, no-bullshit tale of 30something Kelly, who just can’t seem to be happy with her life — the disquieting sense that something is wrong, something is missing from suburban housewifery and motherhood is still a thing that haunts many a woman half a century after The Feminine Mystique identified the problem. And Kelly is hardly a shrinking violet: she’s a former punk rocker and riot grrrl with the cassette tapes of her 90s band’s music and their appearances in xeroxed zines to prove it. But she cannot settle in to suburban life, even though she really does want to. She can’t seem to bond with her newborn baby — “I suck at this,” she laments when everyone but her seems able to get the infant to stop crying — and does not mesh well with the other moms with strollers in the park. And her husband (Josh Hopkins: The Perfect Storm, G.I. Jane) is distracted by work… or perhaps by someone else, we can’t help but wonder, because he seems uninterested in resuming their sexual relationship, even though she is raring to go.

Juliette Lewis (Hellion, Due Date), while never losing her intriguing edge, is genuinely winsome as a woman upset and confused by the reality that everything she has ever wanted just isn’t enough. (Unspoken but hanging over everything here is the possibility that she is suffering from postpartum depression, another reality of women’s lives that movies have ignored: motherhood doesn’t come easily or naturally or without major roadbumps for lots of women!) When she strikes up a friendship with another neighborhood misfit, high schooler Cal (Jonny Weston: Chasing Mavericks), it seems the bright spark she needs to bust out of her funk, and her attentions are therapeutic for him, too. But when their relationship takes a dangerous turn–

Well, nothing here ends up quite how we might expect. McGowan and Starbin have enormous sympathy for Kelly and for the complex mixed emotions and desires that make up a woman’s life and often exist in secret. But while they resist the impulse to elevate anyone to villainy, they suffer no fools and accept no compromises, no justifications, and no excuses. It makes for a film that is remarkably levelheaded and more grownup than other movies that have taken a similar road have trained us to anticipate.

viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival

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