On its surface, the film As Cool As I Am appears to have two things going against it. First is the cast who in the past have appeared and contributed good performances individually in other films, and they appear together in a film few in the public may be aware of. Second is that the film appears to have been completed in 2011 and did not get released theatrically until 2013, if the copyrights appear to be any indication. But hey, you never know until you watch it what kind of film you are going to experience, right?
Virginia Korus Spragg (An Unfinished Life) adapted the Pete Fromm novel into a screenplay that Max Mayer (Adam) directed. Lucy (Sarah Bolger, In America) is a high school girl growing up in New Mexico and has aspirations to be a chef like her idol Mario Batali. She is the only child of Lainee (Claire Danes, Homeland) and Chuck (James Marsden, 2 Guns), the latter of whom works as a lumberjack and is away from the house for extended periods of time. Lainee and Chuck had Lucy when they were teenagers and thus the viewer has a Gilmore Girls situation on hand, where Lucy is coming of age in this slightly unique household while Lainee still learns the ropes of raising a teenaged daughter. Occasionally Lucy vents to her best friend Kevin (Thomas Mann, Beautiful Creatures) about her parents and occasionally is part of her self-evolution, but the main focus of the film remains Lucy and Lainee.
And Lorelai Gilmore is even more of a saint when you watch Lainee in As Cool As I Am. Danes dresses up in short skirts and ‘Do Me' pumps frequently when she goes to work and hooks up with co-workers at said office while working the late shift. Which OK, good for her rediscovering some moments of youth that she may have lost when she became pregnant and all, but these selfish moments show their warts when he comes to her relationship with Lucy. The general dynamic appears to be Lainee forgets something surrounding Lucy and attempts to reconcile it halfheartedly over the first and second acts before culminating in a blowout of sorts in the third act where Lainee almost confesses to her flaws and realizes them in what proves to be a decent and effecting moment by Danes.
While it is a nice moment, the story and the character choices are such that it is an auxiliary one by the time the viewer gets to this point. The change that Lucy undergoes in the movie is peculiar. Her first sexual partner is one borne seemingly out of convenience, almost to save herself from interacting outside of her comfort zone. But her second one is chosen poorly, with the act being a mix of repulsion done almost in the manner of an afterschool special. This may be the worst decision but it is not the only one, as Chuck seems to start off as a loving and dedicated father despite the distance from his wife and daughter, but is transformed into the stereotypical disapproving father.
Marsden's performance as the father is decent and Danes is somewhat better as Lainee, but Bolger's performance as Lucy is not bad. Considering she carries most of the film she holds her own with the other cast members (no real surprise as she would almost be old hand to it by this point), but if given a story that focused more effectively on the relationship with her parents or her friendship with Kevin, this would be a better executed film that what actually unfolds onscreen.
There is some promise while watching As Cool As I Am and for the first hour it is not a bad movie, but in the process of pushing the characters through to the end it loses its way and any emotional impact in the resolution is squandered. The performances are decent, the story less so, but at least it was not the potential train wreck that seemed to portend its subdued release.
The AVC encode that befits As Cool As I Am and its 1.85:1 widescreen, high-definition presentation is nothing if unspectacular. The film replicates its color palette faithfully and with little concern to saturation. It lacks DNR to distract and film grain is present while viewing, both pleasant surprises. But it tends to lack any extended moments of image detail which would drop the jaw or widen the eye. The production values appear to be modest and the actors appear to be a touch overlit but I chalk that up more to creative intent than anything else. That said, the Blu-ray is hardly special.
There is a choice of a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround track or a two-channel PCM one, either of which sounds adequate. But the film has little to do dynamically and the lack of panning or directional effects confirm this to an extent, as the dialogue-driven film occurs in the front of the soundstage and does not really present any convincing level of immersion. The dialogue is at least consistent and well-balanced through the feature, and the soundtrack is devoid of any chirps or hisses that would otherwise deter the experience. It's fine.
Only two things to speak of, both of which are brief. A behind the scenes look (4:20) includes interviews with the cast and asks the requisite questions about their thoughts on the story and who they work with, while the trailer (2:21) is the other ‘extra' to speak of.
Despite having two familiar faces in supporting roles and decent performances by the proverbial floating heads on the cover of the Blu-ray, As Cool As I Am could have been a better story than what actually played out on screen but ultimately is a mild disappointment. Or is it because few have heard of the movie does it become a pleasant surprise? Either way, it is worth checking out not only to see a different performance from Danes, but to reacquaint one's self with Borger's work and hope she keeps it up as she hones her craft. Technically it is not the best in the ball and has bupkis in the bonus department, so I would hold off on buying it unless you are a diehard completist.