Crazy/Beautiful

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Crazy/Beautiful

John Stockwell's fact-based made-for-cable drama Cheaters—the story of a struggling high school that wins a citywide academic competition by cheating—displayed an impressive understanding of adolescent culture's tricky dynamics, as well as a sense of class consciousness generally absent from American film. Stockwell brings those rare strengths to Crazy/Beautiful, an unusually observant romantic drama starring Kirsten Dunst as a wealthy, depressed, rebellious high-school senior who numbs her pain with booze, drugs, and casual sex. Sentenced to pick up trash on the beach following a DUI conviction, she meets fellow student Jay Hernandez, an overachieving football player from a poor Hispanic family who has been struggling all his life to achieve the opportunities and resources Dunst takes for granted. The love story that transcends class boundaries is a cinematic staple, but Crazy/Beautiful wrings sadness, drama, and understated humor from it, largely through the strength of its two lead characters. An actress of depth and substance, Dunst makes the most of her best role since The Virgin Suicides, turning in an unflinchingly vulnerable performance that recalls Angelina Jolie's turn in Girl, Interrupted. As Dunst's disciplined, conformist suitor, Hernandez has a far less flashy role, but he turns what could have been just another straight-arrow jock into a complex, conflicted, extremely likable character. After getting off to a terrific start, Crazy/Beautiful falters a bit, beginning with a clumsy scene in which Dunst's father (Bruce Davison) delivers a multiplex's worth of exposition in one rambling speech that follows an out-of-place Ricky Martin reference. Like the similarly perceptive but flawed Save The Last Dance, Crazy/Beautiful stumbles when it strays from its central relationship. But, also like Dance, Crazy/Beautiful uses impressive lead performances and a remarkable grasp of the complicated emotions of teen romance to overcome its occasional lapse into melodrama.

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