Lara Jean Gallagher’s Clementine (★★☆☆☆) baits its hook with the initial intrigue of apparently jilted lesbian Karen (Otmara Marrero) lurking outside her ex’s boho-chic L.A. pad. Karen wants her dog back, and maybe more. Desperate, she’s willing to drive to her ex’s lake house in Oregon, break-and-enter, and hide out on the premises until her next ill-advised move. She won’t have to wait long, as she arrives to find teen temptress Lana (Sydney Sweeney) lolling around in a bikini by the lake.
The loaded scenario seems poised to go in any number of possible directions. Karen and Lana’s fateful meeting could just as easily take a turn towards “Letters to Penthouse” as live up to its arthouse thriller potential. But instead, it doesn’t move in any compelling direction, neither winding the tension and thrills as tightly as it might nor plunging into the psychological depths of two restless strangers engaged in a dance of deception, or attraction, or something. There are lies and sexual tension, and a couple of bursts of action and danger, although it all registers as lukewarm at best, along with the chemistry between Marrero and Sweeney.
One of the sparkling young cast of HBO’s Euphoria, Sweeney captures her character’s odd come-hither coyness. Lana says she’s nineteen, but looks and acts younger. She also says, after taking a hit off Karen’s joint, that she’s “done way worse” than smoke pot, and we can believe that she definitely has thought about doing bad. But the character stays stuck on coy, even after the lake house’s often-shirtless caretaker Beau (Will Britain) gets thrown into the mix. Beau helpfully supplies exposition, and mildly stirs the pot of intergenerational friction between Karen and would-be bad girl Lana, but the plot just simmers, slowly, stillness masquerading as mystery.
On one hand, stillness is intended to be a key element here, and the crisp sound and cinematography brings the atmosphere to life. First-time feature filmmaker Gallagher’s stylistic control is admirable, but shots of the shimmering lake and well-timed snippets of Katy Jarzebowski’s ominous woodwind-heavy score can generate only so much suspense or interest on their own. And neither the thin plotting, nor Marrero’s somnambulant performance as Karen, sustain the movie’s slight momentum towards the teased collision between truth and delusion.
Dirty hands do come clean, but the teasing doesn’t pay off to great satisfaction, with one plot thread wrapping with a dud of a dramatic monologue, and another with Karen’s dumbest move. Karen’s ex, D. (Sonya Walger), eventually makes a move of her own, and follows up her terse voicemails and phone calls by making an onscreen appearance. Here again, the film could opt to go in any direction of romance, intrigue, kink, or excitement, and instead doesn’t make a choice. The long-awaited showdown fizzles like a match tossed in a lake, or anticipation slowly dissipated.
Clementine is now playing in virtual cinemas everywhere, including Alamo Drafthouse Winchester, Virginia. Visit www.clementine.oscilloscope.net.
As a free LGBTQ publication, Metro Weekly relies on advertising in order to bring you unique, high quality journalism, both online and in our weekly edition. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced many of our incredible advertisers to temporarily close their doors to protect staff and customers, and so we’re asking you, our readers, to help support Metro Weekly during this trying period. We appreciate anything you can do, and please keep reading us on the website and our new Digital Edition, released every Thursday and available for online reading or download.