‘The Quiet’ Has No ‘Cruel Intentions,’ But It’s Still Trite
Monday, August 28, 2006
Category: Arts & Entertainment
Film Feels Forced as It Tries to Cover the Bases Of Serious Drama and High School Saga at Once
So "The Quiet" is all about deep, dark secrets. The trouble is, all they have in common is their sheer shock factor and ability to make you shift uneasily. The film takes a couple of heavy issues and intersperses a bunch of other heavily awkward ones for...our viewing pleasure? Not so much. Most of them don't connect enough for their presence to be altogether necessary and end up causing "The Quiet" to become too loud with secrets for its own good.
Elisha Cuthbert plays Nina, a 17-year-old cheerleader with an off-putting attitude. This includes tormenting her deaf cousin, Dot (Camilla Belle), who joins their family after her father dies and she is left orphaned. The family's dysfunctional issues come to light as Dot discovers them, the most unsettling of which is Nina's sexual abuse by her father (Martin Donovan) and her pill-popping mother's habit of ignoring it. The supporting characters either harbor a fascination with Dot and go to her to confess their most appalling secrets, or they do all they can to torture her.
"The Quiet" is not a high school movie, but unfortunately, sometimes it tries to be. The teenagers are all overly harsh in the unrealistic way of high school films. And in a film already high with tension, this is uncalled for.
Connor (Shawn Ashmore), the popular kid at school, is particularly intrigued with Dot. While much of the film heavily foreshadows, this plotline misleads, and there is a lot of build-up to no end. As Connor softly eyes Dot around school, you think he's going to be a positive presence in her life. Instead he's a pervert who just wants to empty his head of every possible nasty thought he's ever had, to someone who'll "listen." (For a movie where it's stressed that Dot can read lips, he sure does seem to stare her straight in the eye and enunciate every word a lot).
It's not the element of surprise isn't the problem, but rather that the secret-revealing scenes are awkward and lack a sense of flow. They come rushing out abruptly, and then the film tries to be done with this side story without much insight into why it was there in the first place, leaving us to assume that the gratuitous secrets are there just to create a more provocative plot.
For most of the film, the scattered topics are playing tag with one another, and the film neglects to fully develop one before it's racing to the next. It's an exhausting game that isn't compelling enough to keep up with.
Despite the plot's failings, Cuthbert does a convincing job in her role, exuding an outer shell so tough that when her inner, softer layers emerge, it's a natural change of character. She carries her unpredictability well, so that you can never guess if she's going to be conniving or kind, but that either would make sense.
Her disturbing interactions with her father are the most compelling parts of the film, and if this alone was focused on, it would have provided a more focused story.
The end takes an uplifting turn, but there aren't enough transitions for it to get where it wants to be and ends up coming off as forced. "The Quiet" dives into dark issues fearlessly, but forgets to come up for air.
Interview: Actress Elisha Cuthbert and Director Jamie Babbit Discuss Their Film 'The Quiet'
Before settling in for our interview, Elisha Cuthbert ("The Girl Next Door", "24") prepared her sixth cup of coffee for the morning, though one so doused with milk that it could hardly be called coffee. While Cuthbert likens drinking black coffee to drinking tar, she takes a decidedly different approach in the roles she chooses, where the darker it is, the better. Cuthbert and director Jamie Babbit ("But I'm A Cheerleader," "Gilmore Girls") sat down to discuss their latest film, the dark drama, "The Quiet."
Daily Californian: What drew you to a film like "The Quiet"?
Elisha Cuthbert: This was a movie that was perfect for me at the time because I'd just come off of "House of Wax" and I was ready to do something that was definitely more character-driven. After reading it, seeing how dark it was and the journey that happens to her during the course of the film, it all felt worth it. It's one thing to make a dark, edgy film about real topics and leave it as it is, but this movie really ends on such a positive note that I felt like it was worth putting the audience through this journey.
DC: What were you looking for in the role of Nina?
Jamie Babbit: Elisha and I first met at a hotel lobby, and she was telling me that she really responded to the Dot character. She was talking about Valentine's Day and chatting about her boyfriend and how he had a card for her but he didn't give it to her, so she didn't give him anything. She said, "Well, if he's not getting me anything then I'm certainly not getting him anything!" and I thought, wow-something about the way Elisha is kind of guarded in love could totally work for Nina.
EC: I did go home and reread it. My original pass through the script, I focused so much on Dot, but really ignored the rest of the script. When I made another pass through it, I specifically zeroed in on Nina, going holy cow, this girl is dealing with even more stuff. The layers there exceeded, in my opinion, Dot's character and her issues. Sometimes as an actor, you say, I want to play the eccentric one, but it's important to consider the ideas of the people on the outside looking in going, this is what you're looking for, and to not be stubborn about things like that. And really, I cared about the movie, and now watching it, thank God for Jamie.
DC: The film deals with such taboo issues, how did you arrive at a place where you could connect with your character?
EC: Before we started filming the movie, we got together and Jamie put us in circumstances on stage. We weren't rehearsing actual scenes in the film, but we were rehearsing the ideas of the scenes so that it felt like this had been happening for a really long time, which was important because I assume that my character specifically was going through this at a very young age.
DC: Yeah, I felt kind of unsure as to whether Nina really hates her dad or if she really loves her dad...
JB: I didn't want it to be just that Elisha hated his guts and wanted to get away from him. It had to also be that she loved him...
EC: ...and manipulated him just as much as he manipulated her. There are under layers of her using her powers on him and sometimes getting out of the situation. Which probably comes out of being older and being subjected to this for such a long time. So we knew this wasn't just, there's incest and there's this going on.
DC: How did you approach acting and filming the uncomfortable scenes between Nina and her father?
JB: It was complicated for me because I felt I wanted to protect Elisha during the intense scene with her father where he's physically yanking her. We did one take and Martin, he's very method, was hurting Elisha. She was like, dude, you're hurting me. You've got to make it real, but you can't yank me like that. He said, I'm so sorry, I feel terrible. I told Elisha, you know it's my job as a director to protect you and I really want to, but this scene is also about you not being protected, so forgive me if I back off a little bit because you have to go to a scary place.
EC: Because I am such a strong person in real life as an individual, everything about those scenes were very wrong to me. I make the conscious effort in other movies to avoid playing a victim. But I knew why and I understood why we had to go there with it. There were moments when I would go to the bathroom and bawl. I was like, this is not healthy. I don't want to do this. As soon as I let my mind go to that vulnerable place, it made me feel just miserable. But we got through it.
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