Once upon a time not too long ago, in a land not unlike rural California, there were twin sisters (both played by Zoe Kazan) who were as different as night and day. Audrey was a social butterfly. She won every competition. She stole boys’ hearts. She had a chic sense of style. And she moved away from home not long after her mother’s death. Conversely, Laurel was a wallflower. She had only one winning ribbon to her name. She only got the boys who weren’t good enough to attract Audrey. She had a hipster sense of style. And she stayed home to take care of her father after her mother’s death.
Laurel would most likely have stayed at home for the rest of her life, never challenging herself at all, if it weren’t for Audrey. To celebrate their twentysomething birthday, Audrey returns home to cajole Laurel into moving in with her. She takes her to get her excessively-long hair cut; and Laurel, unable to think of anything original, mimics Audrey’s bob and bangs. And so, after a tragic car crash on the way home leaves one of the twin sisters dead, everyone assumes that the survivor is Audrey.
But once she returns home, she regains her memory and realizes that she is actually Laurel. Too confused to correct anyone, she attends her own funeral and assumes Audrey’s life. Using post-traumatic amnesia to excuse her inability to remember anyone in Audrey’s life, Audrey II tries to mimic her sister and experience a different existence. But as Alexandra Chando aptly asks at the beginning of each episode of her twin-centric ABC Family show, “How long could you keep up the lying game?”
For Laurel, it seems the answer to that question is about a month. In that time, she quickly severs ties to the married man (Ron Livingston) that Audrey had been seeing and takes up an idyllic relationship with her apartment renter Basel (Jake Johnson), to whom Audrey had previously been a bitch. While the men may be fooled, best friend Claudia (Frankie Shaw) knows something’s not quite right. But as things in her life begin to get very serious, Laurel realizes she must confess what she’s done to those who most care about her, even if it means hurting them in the process.
Although this all sounds like a fairly heavy drama, The Pretty One is actually a comedy at heart. Drawing from real, very personal experiences, writer/director Jenee LaMarque was deeply inspired to tackle this subject matter. But she knew that if it were a straight-up drama it would be too heavy for most audiences. Instead she explores the subject in a comedic manner that still resonates on a dramatic note.
To help LaMarque pull it off is Zoe Kazan. After an extensive casting process, LaMarque found her Laurel/Audrey; and boy was she worth the wait. Kazan feels profoundly genuine in her dual roles. She makes Laurel’s appropriation of Audrey’s life seem like an important emotional journey instead of just a made up shtick for the film. And Kazan brings a subtle humor to the role that doesn’t distract from her growth as a character. Plus, she has great chemistry with Johnson (even when their Mr. & Mrs. Brown routine grows stale).
Even though LaMarque handles the story’s subject with apt skill, she does drive home her copy motif too hard. Laurel spends her time making copies of famous paintings with her father; copies that are always just a little too skewed, mind you. Laurel then goes on to copy her sister, and even that cutesy routine with her boyfriend is meant to copy something else. She spends so much time pretending to be something she’s not that I want to sit her on that couch with Sam and make them both watch Glee until they learn to embrace their individuality.
As far as identity crisis romantic comedies go, The Pretty One succeeds where A Case of You fails. LaMarque purposefully sets her film in an indeterminate time and place to give it a fairy-tale universality. This completely opposite approach from A Case of You, which prides itself on being so very now, makes the characters much easier to identify with and the story feel much more genuine. And thus The Pretty One becomes a much more enjoyable film.