Written and Directed by Lara Jean Gallagher
Starring Otmara Marrero, Sonya Walger, Sydney Sweeney, Will Brittain
To live, vicariously, through someone else’s experience is sometimes trippier than the best high, the worst low. Inevitably in life, there are two sides to every story and Lara Jean Gallagher’s “Clementine” unconventionally aims to look at a broken relationship through the eyes of the victim.
In this instance, the victim is Karen (Otmara Marrero). As the film opens, Karen is at odds with her partner, D (Sonya Walger). It is a heated debate and neither side truly is willing to relent. What catches our eye though is the age difference between Karen and D; Karen is significantly younger than D. However, ageism is not the primary factor in the breakup: Karen can hold her own against D. Marrero’s performance is key to this in that she plays the younger intellectual through her emotions. There is disappointment and hurt.
Karen eventually leaves the relationship. She tries to return, finding that the locks have been changed and that she has been barred access to their home. With nowhere to go, Karen retreats north to Oregon where D has a second home. Seeking refuge, Karen finds that she is locked out of that home too. Undeterred, she makes a nest for herself to survive until she can figure out the next move.
Gallagher’s direction is assured as is her script; we have a clear definition of Karen’s side of this story with only a shouting match to give D’s vantage point. A transitionary moment early in the film conveys a series of smart choices made by Gallagher that help carry Karen’s story forward; first, is the symbolic nature of the moment and you’ll recognize it when you see it. Second, is Gallagher’s attention to detail as the characters’ mood subtly shifts that, thirdly, is expertly captured through Andres Karu’s expert eyes.
If I’m waxing poetic about the technical nature of the film, it’s because Gallagher and her team maximized every penny of their budget on the screen and it shows. Especially once Karen gets up to Oregon. The home where most of the film is set is shrouded in trees, while still basking in the sun that drenches the area.
There is an openness in the light that Karu and Gallagher captured, a reflection of Karen’s feelings once she settles down. Karen eventually attracts the attention of the young Lana (Sonya Walger) and the story takes a déjà vu-like quality as Karen is now placed in D’s position. The relationship between Karen and Lana plays out as it should: slowly and tenderly at first as they learn about one another.
Keeping in the spirit of the “two-sides to every situation” convention, Gallagher checks her female characters with buff, cheeky lads who are demanding and intentionally mean, especially that of Beau (Will Brittain), the handyman that D keeps around to maintain the place. Beau’s meanness is secondary to his intentions with Lana, which makes for a scintillating tryst in the Oregon woods as déjà vu quickly turns into turnabout.
“Clementine” is one of those unique stories that works specifically because the vantage point from which the story is told does not feel forced. The characters and their situations feel natural, a credit to Marrero and Walger, but also the team behind the camera. The look and feel of the film is something to marvel at.