As a rule, the teen-romance genre amounts to a never-ending procession of generic titles, stereotypes, cringe-worthy dialogue, well-worn plot contours, limp direction and blander-than-bland performances by the likes of Freddie Prinze Jr. Rare is the youth-targeted love story that holds much appeal for anyone older than high-school age.
So maybe low expectations must take some of the credit for one's positive reaction to crazy/beautiful, a cross-cultural romance that pairs Kirsten Dunst (Bring It On, The Virgin Suicides) with screen newcomer Jay Hernandez (NBC's "Hang Time," MTV's "Undressed"). Dunst plays Nicole, the troubled, free-spirited daughter of a do-gooding congressman (Bruce Davison) who's too busy with his new wife and infant daughter to pay attention to the needs of his oldest child.
Hernandez is Carlos, a hard-working, straight-arrow striver and star athlete from East Los Angeles who hopes to climb out of poverty via an appointment to a military academy. Carlos attends Nicole's school in tony Pacific Palisades, only because he's willing to endure the two-hour bus ride from his neighborhood.
Yes, it's the old uptown girl/downtown boy scenario, most recently borrowed for Save the Last Dance. This time, though, the plot convention is at the heart of a movie that doesn't come off nearly as cynical or contrived as others of its ilk. In fact, "crazy/beautiful," is imbued with a sweetness, earthiness, sexiness and believability that qualifies it as entertaining viewing even for those over the age of consent. (It's probably a bit too steamy for the junior-high set.) Credit the fast-rising John Stockwell (director and writer of HBO's acclaimed "Cheaters") and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.
The filmmakers demonstrate their aptitude for the material right from the start, when Nicole and Carlos meet cute -- twice. He spots her first, picking up trash on the beach as community-service penance for some unspecified crime. Later, she invites him to join an impromptu class-cutting party. He reluctantly agrees and winds up in after-school detention with the group. After a drunken night out on the town, they slowly drift toward one another. "You're crazy," he tells her, during an intimate moment. "You're beautiful," she replies. Voila!
The film "crazy/beautiful" doesn't dig deeply enough into the issues it broaches (class struggle, racism, mental illness, suicide and alcoholism). But the movie deserves kudos for handling those elements in a manner that's fresh and not hackneyed, and for capturing the sheer emotional tumult of a first love affair.
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