Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
The Pretty One takes a little time to reveal itself. In its opening moments, it looks like it may make a break for cartoonish cringe comedy, introducing a pair of identical twin sisters, Laurel and Audrey (both played by Zoe Kazan), who offer a broad study in contrasts. In their childhood bedroom, where Laurel still lives in her early 20s, Audrey festoons her side with awards, while Laurel’s has a single “participant” ribbon, which she awkwardly calls attention to while on a sex date with the now-teenage boy she used to babysit.
The bright spot in these early moments are the shadings in the sibling relationship; Kazan is equally convincing as the long-haired, reticent Laurel and the more confident Audrey, who has left her small town for, if not the big city, at least a bigger city. But the movie receives a stronger jolt when unusual circumstances suddenly allow one sister to assume the other’s identity. As Laurel sheds her wallflower identity as a poor man’s Audrey, The Pretty One ditches its own identity as a poor man’s Todd Solondz picture, and becomes something sweeter and gentler.
At Audrey’s apartment, Laurel meets Basel (Jake Johnson), her sister’s neighbor and tenant—basically a more relaxed version of Nick Miller on New Girl. There aren’t enough characters in the movie for what happens between them to hold much surprise in plot terms, but Kazan and Johnson are boundlessly charming in their scenes together. Between the under-seen likes of Drinking Buddies, What If, and The Pretty One, they’ve both become rom-com heroes under the radar.
Taking on Audrey’s home, job, and social life, Laurel perpetuates a series of low-key lies that never quite turn into shenanigans, and The Pretty One resembles a melancholy, early-20s version of The Parent Trap, with a sense of loneliness in place of Laurel’s actual twin. Writer-director Jenée LaMarque emphasizes this imbalance with slightly stylized framing, often placing Kazan off-center, with the rest of the shot noticeably empty. (There’s also a neat trick shot of the twins in their childhood beds, side by side with the smallest gap between them, that looks like it could be a secret split-screen.) Still, it’s no surprise that the movie came and went relatively quietly in early 2014 after hitting a few festivals; it’s an unassuming indie with a niche audience. By that same token, though, fans of Kazan, Johnson, gentle romance, and/or mysterious sibling alchemy should all enjoy it.
Availability: The Pretty One is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Amazon or your local video store/library, and to purchase from the major digital services.