Opens Fri., April 16
Along with his wife, So Yong Kim, Bradly Rust Gray co-wrote In Between Days, the acutely observed tale of a withdrawn Korea-to-Canada transplant fighting unrequited love for her best friend. The premise of The Exploding Girl, which Gray wrote and directed himself, is so similar it feels like a remake.
The setting is now summery New York, not wintery Toronto, while the lead girl, Ivy (Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia), is withdrawn but capable of articulate speech. Moreover, rather than an immigrant wrestling with a new locale, our protagonist is here epileptic—a condition meant more as a lightly handled metaphor for her emotions and not a convenient plot point. There’s even a happy ending.
Otherwise, the story is the same, roughly. Kazan’s Ivy is back in NYC for vacation and, despite her and her boyfirend being in different towns, she finds herself drawn to Al (Mark Rendall), a friend who crashes at her mom’s place. Ivy never verbalizes her feelings for Al, but you can see the deep longing in her eyes. Alas, Al is oblivious, even asking her advice on other girls and broadcasting minor conquests.
Gray’s loosely chiseled scenes thus limn their uneasy, possibly doomed relationship. Shooting with the newfangled Red One Camera, which looks exactly like beautiful Super 16mm cinematographer Eric Lin shoots from afar, through doorways, with objects obscuring our view. It feels realistic; one scene leaves in a deafening siren that interrupts a key cell phone conversation, just to show off the verisimilitude. Granted, this scene comes during a section where everything that could go bad for Ivy goes bad—proof the authenticity is mostly artificial. And yet The Exploding Girl, in its third act, goes to unchartered lands. The questionable final pan-down aside, Gray winds up portraying the kind of relationship—not friends, not (yet) lovers—movies never seem to show.