2001, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by John Stockwell. Starring Lucinda Jenney, Miguel Castro, Taryn Manning, Herman Osorio, Bruce Davison, Jay Hernandez, Kirsten Dunst.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 29, 2001

As far as movies marketed at a youthful demographic go, crazy/beautiful is a surprisingly mature and delicately rendered entry into the teen sweepstakes. If only the filmmakers had aimed to make a good film -- and not just a good teen film. The often too-loud soundtrack and too-quick editing detract some from what is really a sweet story: that of first love, between the earnestly clean-cut and high-achieving Carlos (Hernandez) and the unhinged, unkempt Nicole (Dunst). They hail from vastly different worlds: He's bussed in two hours every day from his East L.A. neighborhood to attend the poshly prestigious Pacific Palisades High School; she hardly gives her privileged lifestyle as the daughter of a congressman a second thought -- but then she's pretty occupied as is, what with her impressive daily quotient of booze and sullen appearance to attend to. In what looks to be a bid by buttercup-cute Dunst (last seen in last summer's wildly popular cheer-comedy Bring It On) to shrug off any pompom residue, she has the haggard gaunt of someone coming off an eight-day bender. Dunst tries mightily -- and she's done some very good work before, in Interview With the Vampire and The Virgin Suicides. But she never fully conveys the real grit and grime of Nicole, the deeply scarred psyche of a girl bottomed out by emotional abandonment. (Drew Barrymore did a more convincing job in Mad Love, the similarly themed -- crazy girl, do-gooder boy -- 1995 film co-starring Chris O'Donnell.) Newcomer Jay Hernandez, however, is terrific as the beleaguered Carlos. He brings charm and complexity to the role of a young man trapped between the conflicting interests of love and ambition (he hopes to become a fighter pilot, but Nicole's presence in his life is universally regarded as a threat to that future). crazy/beautiful also succeeds in its frank position on sex, fully acknowledging that it regularly happens between high schoolers. The film doesn't exploit that fact, nor does it shy away from it, and the consummation scene between the two is shot tenderly, but without any sense of glorification. Carlos and Nicole's courtship is indeed a crazy/beautiful thing, but the film loses steam once the honeymoon stage is over. The pair's complicatedness and confusion are made as easy to decode as the back of a milk carton -- an act of condescension to the film's teen audience -- and a simplistic, overly sunny conclusion rubs just as wrong. crazy/beautiful movingly captures the terrors and delights of being lovesick at 17. Would that it hadn't felt constrained to target only the 17-year-olds.

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Crazy/beautiful, John Stockwell, Lucinda Jenney, Miguel Castro, Taryn Manning, Herman Osorio, Bruce Davison, Jay Hernandez, Kirsten Dunst

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