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THE QUIET
2006
Written by Abdi Nazemian & Micah Schraft and directed by Jamie Babbit
96 Minutes
Rated R for strong and disturbing sexual content, a scene of violence, language, drug content and brief nudity.

The Quiet is kind of a curiosity. One of my most damning assessments would be to compare it to the aggravatingly overrated House of Sand and Fog, a film that claims to be about moral ambiguity but is really just a noncommittal, manipulative...let's just say it ticked me off. The Quiet is similar to it in that it, too, deals heavily with moral ambiguity and it, too, has a moral compass that just spins in place. Mercifully, though, while House of Sand and Fog painted its characters in black and white, just alternating between the colors, The Quiet is a little more gray.

Early on in the movie, I found myself thinking about cliche. The Quiet is rife with it, but I felt quick to come to its defense in most cases, and the reason for that is because of how well made the film is. A cliche can overcome itself if well executed, and often that happens here. The extensive (and excessive) use of voice over is mitigated by Camilla Belle's strong performance. And Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," a personal favorite of mine (and many filmmakers to be sure), is used during a pivotal scene, but very effectively fleshes out the scene.

It's difficult to be critical about The Quiet without spoiling the plot's twists and turns. While I habitually try to avoid trying to figure out "what's gonna happen next" and encourage you to avoid doing so as well, whenever a new twist popped up, I usually followed it with an eye roll. I'm frustrated writing this review because my hands are tied; everything I want to bitch about is central and key to the story.

Maybe my best criticisms that don't involve hackneyed plot twists and devices can focus instead on two other things in the movie that pissed me off.

First, there's a preoccupation with sex that runs through the entire film. While I'm sure someone could make the case that one of the themes of the film may be how teenagers handle and relate to sex, and I'm sure I could write a good thesis paper for it for class, it doesn't change the fact that it's ineptly done. The film is never quite willing to be frank about it; it always dodges it the way American films love to do, by tarting it up through the lips of teenagers or drenching it in a desperate housewife. It's been fucking done. Nevermind how obvious the film is about handling it, its characters discuss it ineptly and so frequently it defies believability. As someone willing to sit through Resident Evil: Extinction - and enjoy it - I will tell you that it tested my suspension of disbelief. I was a teenage boy once. I know what a preoccupation with sex sounds like. It does not sound like this movie.

Second, the jocks and cheerleaders angle is played the fuck out. Anyone who's ever been to high school knows that there were more than two fucking cliques: it was never just jocks/cheerleaders and outcasts. I'm sick to God damn death of seeing this "if you're not one you're the other" mentality in films. It's not the eighties anymore, John Hughes hasn't made a movie in seventeen years, give it a fucking rest. This is only exacerbated by having one of the main jock characters, Connor (played by Shawn Ashmore), naturally interested in Dot (Camilla Belle's character), an outcast. This is done. I'm done. The death knell should've been She's All That. And actually, leading out of that, I'd like to point out that I'm really sick to death of this "jock that's secretly sensitive/insecure" archetype. Does anyone remember how high school wasn't just jocks boning cheerleaders except for the one artsy girl that...

Oh God, give it a fucking rest.

The way Dot is developed may or may not frustrate you, depending on where you lean. For me? Nearly every step she took in the film was a step away from keeping the film interesting. You'll see what I mean when you watch it if you ask yourself, "but what if they hadn't done that?" And when you realize that while your answer would've been more complicated to play out, it also would've been more thought provoking.

Unfortunately, the writers are bankrupt, and a lot of the devices they use feel like a teenager being handed a shotgun. While most of the time he'll probably be alright, every once in a while someone's pet is going to get shot. A lot of neighbors' cats got caught in the crossfire in this one. These two seem to lack the maturity to handle any of the subject matter properly, and whenever they make a daring or boundary-pushing decision in the script, it usually gets blunted by something ineptly done or handled. And just so I'm not all frowny faces without any solutions, I'd like to suggest Nicole Kassell's film The Woodsman as required viewing for anyone who thinks a touchy and controversial subject can't be handled effectively and intelligently.

I want to say it's not all frustration here. The film is engaging enough, but if you're like me and you've got at least a little education behind you, you're going to be slapping your forehead a lot. It breaks down into archetypes too easily. While some of the performances are strong, like Camilla Belle's (and Martin Donovan is always a joy to watch for fans of Saved!), Elisha Cuthbert is given a thankless role that requires her mind to bend too sharply in too many directions. When tasked with showing real emotion, she delivers, but whenever she's supposed to be a bitch she plays the predictable petulant child. Yet for how many archetypes and cliches the film employs, it at least fairly deftly weaves them together and reconfigures them in such a way that it remains pretty watchable.

I'd like to give a heads up to director Jamie Babbit. The film industry, mainstream or independent, tends to really be a sausage fest when it comes to the director's chair, so for one it's just nice to see female talent behind the camera if for no other reason than to just cite that being male or female doesn't really affect your ability to direct. However, one of the things I enjoyed most about the film was the direction. Babbit paints it in heavy blue throughout. Blue being my favorite color notwithstanding, it's a gutsy decision to put such an aggressive artsy flair on a film that at least tries to be rooted in realism. While I have to wonder if it was the right call or if another approach might've worked better, it was one of the things I really enjoyed. The blue pall cast over the film gives it the right feel and tone; it's synaesthetic, communicating silence through color.

At the end of it, I was interested in the film, but I have to lay blame squarely on the shoulders of the writers. When handling difficult material like some of what's presented in The Quiet, a writer needs to come through instead of wearing kid gloves. Anything less than a total commitment is disingenuous; it robs the film of force and it cheats the audience. If you're going to talk about big kid things, you need to be a big kid about them.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.