I don’t remember when I started to notice the argument my parents weren’t having.
As Cool as I Am (2013) is the story of a young girl coming through her mid-teens the way most of us felt at the time. Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger) is the young child of young parents, Chuck (James Marsden) and Lainee (Claire Danes). Born when they were in high school, Chuck is now a lumberjack who spends very little time at home while Lainee finds her way in the world. That leaves Lucy virtually alone to navigate her first boyfriend (Thomas Mann), school, dangerous parties, and her own dreams of being a successful chef. It’s a rough old world out there, but luckily Lucy’s got enough sarcasm and personal strength to get through it. Spoiler alert.
There’s something of a TV movie vibe to As Cool as I Am. Somewhere between being too clever in the dialogue (Virginia Korus Spragg) but not quite so clever as to make it stylistic, it’s like it went halfway to Juno (2007) and turned back. There’s also a fair bit of philosophy name-checking that seems to just get by without doing itself an injury. Less generous viewers might have scoffed. But the TV feel is also in the direction (Max Mayer), music (Christopher Lennertz), and cinematography (Tim Suhrstedt). It’s hard to describe fully, but an early scene where the camera glides slowly over the credits to the cool tones you’ll recognize from your favorite prime time drama while the family shares some cute, snappy dialogue. Still, it’d probably be one of the more popular shows on television.
The presentation of high school--absent the parties and long-term relationship--feels incredibly close to my own (long-gone) reality. Give Bolger and Mann a lot of the credit for that success since what might seem like bad writing only reflects the limited wit of a high school intellectual. As noted earlier, Spragg may be giving too much credit to that age group. There’s also a genuine breakdown happening with Danes’s character who is painfully self-involved and in search of some kind of direction. I would have liked an extra five minutes on her character to just hammer home the fact that Lucy is putting together some fabulous meals while Lainee seems blissfully disinterested in her daughter’s passion. Marsden’s character is pretty darn interesting as well. A man about thirty years out of date in his application of catholic lessons and views on gender roles, he has a few blow-ups that felt dark and real. Missing greatness, however, is that TV feeling that edits the scenes a bit too cleanly, frames the action too conventionally, and lets the young people get a little too comfortable in their line readings.
Better than Lifetime. I’m not sure about the R rating.
Bonus features include a behind the scenes promo and the trailer.
"As Cool as I Am" is on sale October 22, 2013 and is rated R. Drama. Directed by Max Mayer. Written by Virginia Korus Spragg. Starring Claire Danes, James Marsden, Sarah Bolger.