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Kelly & Cal
IFC Films // Unrated // September 19, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Love can be a complicated thing. It can be what we feel romantically towards another person, or a feeling that simply displays how much we truly care for an individual. Sometimes, this line can become blurred beyond repair, leading to an absolute change in a relationship. This is the notion that Kelly & Cal is revolved around. While this isn't necessarily a groundbreaking new concept, director Jen McGowan and writer Amy Lowe Starbin introduce a new angle that is rarely seen in the genre. This SXSW Gamechanger Award-winning feature captivates us with its central themes and relatively well-crafted characters.
Kelly (Juliette Lewis) was once a wild punk-rocker, but has now become a suburban housewife with a newborn child. Living in a new town, she's left wondering if she's truly ready for the responsibility of being a mother. She soon meets seventeen-year-old Cal (Jonny Weston) close to home. He's a frustrated young adult, who is having difficulty in finding happiness. Kelly and Cal develop an unlikely friendship in which both individuals are able to once again find themselves.
It should come as no surprise that the SXSW Gamechanger Award speaks for the plot. This is a story usually told from the boy's perspective of the woman that he soon becomes friends with. However, Kelly's perspective offers an entirely different story from the one that we're used to. Rather than having to suffer through the high school drama, Kelly & Cal takes a more mature direction by following an adult. She deals with the very same problems that any person would in a new town in which their significant other is always away at work. As the film progresses, we come to understand her in such a way that brings her character to life. Kelly proves to be a genuinely real character that we can really feel for. Even though we never see anything from Cal's perspective, we come to truly sympathize with him. The entire tone of the film changes when they're together, providing audiences with a lighter and an overall funnier atmosphere that is hard to resist.
Kelly & Cal is a drama, but it's also a comedy at heart. The humor is largely introduced by the situations in which Kelly finds herself in, as well as the conversations held with Cal. This film isn't about the laugh-per-minute ratio, but the comedy is most certainly effective when it wants to be. I found myself chuckling through the majority of the jokes, as we're provided with a variety of rebel humor. Fortunately, the comedy and the drama flow together naturally, as neither one of them offsets the balance of the other. Many of the elements introduced here are that of a coming-of-age dramedy, which we are in no shortage of. Kelly & Cal utilizes an innovative way of looking within this relationship that continues to go against our social norms. Nevertheless, McGowan and Lowe appropriately handle the subject material in a way that will have us both laughing and genuinely wanting to see these two leads reach their personal happiness.
Yet, it isn't really a coming-of-age story. Rather, it's a coming-of-motherhood picture, as Kelly must confront her desire to live in the past, and learn how to move forward with her newly-discovered responsibilities. If this film was told from the perspective of Cal, it would most certainly be a coming-of-age story, as he would struggle to find himself throughout the running time. However, this isn't truly his film at heart. While we learn to deeply care for him, Kelly is the character who must truly change her way of thinking in order to reach the necessary stage to become a mother. This is largely supported by the second half of the running time, as Kelly begins to grow more confidence in herself and her abilities to take care of her child. Lowe's screenplay touches upon numerous sweet notes, as she diverts from the cliché moments that we have become so accustomed to. However, the final act doesn't entirely feel realized. With the exception of the final scene shared between Kelly and her husband, the climax simply feels artificial. Fortunately, the picture ultimately picks itself back up with a genuine ending that furthermore proves that this a film with heart.
Of course, director Jen McGowan received some help from a rather solid cast. Juliette Lewis is outstanding in the role of Kelly. Due to her personal performance, it feels as if we truly understand the essence of this character by the time the credits are rolling. She brings a sense of humor and dramatic tension to the picture, which truly aid to the film's success. Jonny Weston might be a bit newer to the acting field, but he has brought Cal to the screen in a unique way. This is primarily displayed through the more sincere moments with Lewis, as they simply radiate off of the screen. Due to these performances, this is a relationship that truly comes to life. While the supporting roles are good at just that - supporting, it's Lewis and Weston who truly make this something special.
Even despite the hiccup found within the film's climax, Kelly & Cal possesses a strong balance of comedic timing and dramatic tension. It has the ability to make us laugh, as well as intensely worry about the fate of these two individuals. Juliette Lewis and Jonny Weston keep us captivated in the lead roles, as the characters continue to get closer. The emotional connection held between Kelly and Cal is so incredibly well-constructed. Writer Amy Lowe Starbin has crafted a story that will surely resonate with audiences. It provides a highly intriguing perspective, which brings a breath of fresh air to the genre. This coming-of-motherhood film hits most of the right notes. Needless to say, Kelly & Cal is unique, sentimental, and authentic. Recommended.