By Don Simpson | February 6, 2014
Director: Jenée LaMarque
Writer: Jenée LaMarque
Starring: Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, Danny Pudi, Sterling Beaumon, Jeremy Howard, Frances Shaw, Sabrina Lloyd, John Carroll Lynch, Shae D’lyn, Audi Resendez, Dale Raoul, Bronwyn Cornelius, Luka Jones, Jennifer Lafleur
Laurel (Zoe Kazan) is an awkward twentysomething who never quite found her wings after high school graduation. She was never popular, heck she never really had any friends. Laurel was practically invisible, especially in comparison to her identical twin sister, Audrey (Zoe Kazan).
While Laurel has stayed at home to take care of their father (John Carroll Lynch), Audrey has blossomed into a full-fledged butterfly. Audrey works as a real estate agent, owns a duplex and is dating an older man (Ron Livingston). Approaching the world with unbridled confidence and vigor, Audrey is living the American dream.
It is pretty rare that Audrey returns home, but one such occasion is for their birthday. Laurel may not seem all that plain when she is alone, but juxtaposed with Audrey’s innate beauty and impeccable style, it quickly becomes apparent why everyone ignores Laurel.
As a birthday present, Audrey takes Laurel out for a makeover which results in Laurel looking exactly like Audrey. This comes in handy, because soon thereafter Laurel is presented with an opportunity to become Audrey. Hesitant at first, Laurel eventually decides to seize the opportunity to find out how her other half lives; but, other than taking over Audrey’s name, job and home, Laurel has very little interest in actually becoming Audrey. Laurel sees this as a way to reinvent herself and escape the exhausting mundanity of her everyday existence.
Using post-traumatic amnesia as an excuse for her social awkwardness, Laurel timidly acclimates herself into Audrey’s life. Everyone, especially her tenant Basel (Jake Johnson), seems to notice that Audrey is acting differently. Being that Laurel has never spent any time with Audrey in the real world, Laurel can only guess at what Audrey would act like.
There are certainly plenty of films about twins negotiating their separate identities as well as films about swapping lives, but writer-director Jenée LaMarque thankfully presents us with a relatively novel concept. LaMarque is most interested in the way that Laurel approaches her existential crisis and redefines her identity. Using Audrey’s persona as merely a cloak, Laurel takes this unique opportunity to evolve into a totally new person. She might be in her twenties, but The Pretty One represents the coming-of-age of a young woman who until now has lived a very cloistered life. Being that she has never done anything for herself, the most important part of Laurel’s maturation is her newly discovered sense of initiative and independence.
As one might expect, this entire film rests upon Zoe Kazan’s shoulders. And while the few scenes with Laurel and Audrey together onscreen are clumsily orchestrated (in some cases the split screen is too evident, in other cases it is too apparent that a stand-in is being utilized for one of the sisters), Kazan portrays the dualities of the twins with astounding panache. Kazan is then tasked with portraying Laurel’s impersonation of Audrey. In doing so, it becomes abundantly clear that Kazan truly understands what makes Laurel tick. Just as all of the people in Audrey’s life sense that something is off about her, we recognize aspects of Laurel’s personality shining through her disguise. It is Kazan’s subtlety of portraying one character’s portrayal of another that truly differentiates this film from the exaggerated caricatures that are all too prevalent in “switching lives” plots. In other words, The Pretty One is nothing at all like Freaky Friday.