I date a twin and have been for close to a decade (!). So the proposition of a narrative coming along detailing a switch - where one twin assumes the role of the other - leaves me a little skeptical. While certain photographs might throw me for a loop guessing which sister is which, a couple minutes in either one’s company is enough for me to know who is who. What a film like The Pretty One requires is an actor capable of convincingly establishing two separate identities and persuading not just the other characters in the film but the audience that their ruse could conceivably work. For this skeptic, the film succeeds solely because of its central performance from Zoe Kazan.
Laurel and Audrey (Zoe Kazan in both roles) are defined in their contrast. Laurel is reserved and dedicated to her father. She stays with him in their rural home and paints. Audrey is much more outgoing, leaving the rural confines of her birth home for the city. She enters a room in confident stride and gives off the sense that her life is in order. The two are twin sisters and share that profound kinship that so few are able to understand. Tragedy strikes and provides Laurel with the circumstance of assuming Audrey’s identity. It’s the moral question that follows, where the subdued and passive twin ascribes to the behavior of the extroverted one.
The opening passages of the film present some disarmingly assured brushstrokes. Jenée LaMarque’s framing, in this debut feature, is particularly noticeable in its eloquence and precision. The picture’s emphasis on doubling is present throughout The Pretty One ’s first act and LaMarque proves to be a beautiful stylist in composing images that address those thematic concerns. Kazan too, proves to be more than capable of acknowledging the thematic intent of the material without overplaying her meaty double-role. From her performances in The Exploding Girl and Ruby Sparks, she has a particular knack for letting her physicality - her tiny frame and large eyes - capture rapturous emotion. Here, contending with issues of loss and identity, she functions as both introvert and extrovert, real and false. It’s an affecting performance, one that’s only highlighted by LaMarque’s ability to capture that emotion within tightly composed frames.
Yet for all of LaMarque’s visual acuity, the picture eventually succumbs to some particularly problematic narrative devices. Much of the romantic components of the picture involving Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston never feel particularly necessary for a narrative that could have functioned much more efficiently (and economically) without them. The opening and closing stretch largely function without that romantic subplot, only confirming their superfluous nature. It’s enough to make The Pretty One a bit of a slog midway through, but the goodwill it generates through LaMarque’s compositions and Kazan’s performance is enough to commend.