The Exploding Girl and Friction

The Exploding Girl is an extremely small film. The title character is a girl named Ivy (Zoe Kazan, who had a small but memorable part in Me and Orson Welles and is Elia Kazan‘s granddaughter). She is home from college for a short break, staying with her mother somewhere in New York. Her boyfriend stayed behind at school, but her longtime friend Al is around. The film title is due to Ivy’s epilepsy, though it is well controlled with medication.

The film moves very slowly, and sometimes doesn’t move at all. But it feels real, reminding me a bit of Charlotte Sometimes. I’ll give it a low out of .

Friction is, so far as I can tell, a narrative film about a documentary about a failed narrative film that starred actors playing characters very close to themselves and with their real names. The director, Cullen Hoback, plays a director named Cullen Hoback, who agrees to teach film at an arts camp in New Hampshire in exchange for being allowed to use the students to make a film. The three main characters are the couple who run the camp (Jeremy and Amy Mathison, played by Jeremy and Amy Mathison) and one of the students (August Thompson, played by August Thompson). The director creates a story about a love triangle involving August and the Mathisons, which appears to spill over into real life. Or does it?

By all of my usual measures, this is not a good film. The acting seems forced and unreal. The camera shakes and frequently loses focus. But the Möbius strip-like structure keeps it engaging and extremely entertaining. I have to give it out of . An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.

The director (who was also the writer, producer, cinematographer, and editor) was at the screening to answer questions (there are definitely spoilers below):

  • He wants us to remember what we are feeling right after the film, because most people who see the film won’t have a chance to hear a Q&A afterwards.
  • How close was it to what he wanted when he started? Very close. It took 9 months to edit. All of the rehearsal scenes that were included as replacements for the “real” scenes were intended to be the way they are.
  • Amy and August didn’t actually stay overnight in the hotel room together.
  • Everything in the film is either true or one step removed. The famous father is not Grammy award winner, but was instead the Oscar winning writer of On Golden Pond.
  • The film was written in 6 days and shot in 12. Then he waited 1½ years to edit it, after the kids turned 18.
  • The camp was really only 7 kids.
  • They had a safe word on set (“banana”), and they would stop filming when someone said it. That way they knew that the word “cut” didn’t really mean cut.
  • The kids really did get confused between the story and reality at times.
  • The couple isn’t really divorced.
  • The parts were written for the specific kids who were there.
  • The actual total production cost was $52, for coffee.
  • Some scenes only had a structure, with improvised dialog, though most did have scripted dialog.
  • Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, and Wes Anderson are significant influences on him.

Both seen on 3/2/2010 at Cinequest.

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