The Pretty One, directed by Jenée LeMarque, is a late bloomer’s coming of age tale about twin sisters, Audrey and Laurel (both played by Zoe Kazan). Audrey is the outgoing has-it-all-together sister, while Laurel is the nervous, awkward one — too afraid to begin life.
The Pretty One opens by showing us the dollhouse existence of Laurel. She still lives at home trying her best to cleave to an aggressively nostalgic childlike existence well past its expiration date. She exclusively wears the wardrobe of her dead mother who appears to have stopped buying clothes after 1981, in her attempt to keep the past alive. The impression Laurel gives is that of a rejected distant cousin in a Wes Anderson film. She thinks her only purpose in life is to care for their father, a replica artist for whom she helps to paint Mona Lisas and the like. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have a talent for it, but her father doesn’t have the heart to tell her, so he hides her pieces away to spare her feelings.
Audrey, the successful twin, shows up to celebrate their birthday, and the vast difference between the two becomes immediately clear; Audrey is everyone’s favorite who escaped the small farm town for the big city and is doing quite well. She is fed up with Laurel’s insistence on living a meek existence, and is determined to bring her to the city.
Unfortunately, as the twins begin their exciting journey, they are hit by a semi. Laurel wakes up in a hospital room only to realize that everyone thinks she is Audrey and that Laurel died in the crash. At first, she is too stunned to understand the situation. It is only at Laurel’s funeral, her own, after she gets a sense of the minuscule impact she has had on her family and her community, that she decides to keep the secret to herself and make a grave new start. She sets off to Audrey’s home in the big city intent on living life without the hassle of it being her own. Using the excuse of post-traumatic amnesia, Laurel easily slips into her twin’s life with the help of Audrey’s very understanding friends and colleagues. Initially, it seems exhilarating, but the perfect life Audrey appears to have had quickly loses it’s luster.
Audrey’s perfect boyfriend (Ron Livingston) is married. Audrey is a vicious landlord to her very sweet and very cute tenant/neighbor played by Jake Johnson. The more she tries to be Audrey, the more she fails hilariously. Slowly, Laurel allows herself to follow her own instincts. She rejects Audrey’s boyfriend, and becomes more than friends with her neighbor. Life becomes better, but of course reality looms — ready to crash a thunderous blow on the ruse. The moment of truth and reckoning finally comes, and Laurel must pick up the pieces of her life and give the world closure to Audrey’s. Through acknowledging her hang-ups and celebrating herself, Laurel finally breaks out of her shell, and feels all the stuff people feel at the end of coming-of-age movies.
These types of twin movies usually take on a much darker tone — think Dead Ringers, or the show Ringer — so it’s quite refreshing to have a humorous take on this type of situation. Johnson’s ease of delivery and relaxed demeanor pairs well with Kazan’s goofy and nervous disposition. Then there is Ron Livingston, who brings a suave, bedroom-eyed entertaining juxtaposition to Laurel. Zoe Kazan continues to establish herself as a romantic comedy ingenue bringing a fun quirkiness to the role of trying to be something you are so, so, so not.
Like most films in this genre, The Pretty One becomes pretty predictable as it follows the rom-com tropes with the “What? You lied to me?” and the “Please baby please take me back” moments, but then again, that’s what a rom com is. Yet, some moments are a bit too heavy handed. Like at one point near the end when Laurel declares she will find out what it means to be herself, the soundtrack of the film blares a song with lyrics about finding out what it means to be yourself. Another unsubtle punctuation mark in the theme has her discover a true talent for painting once she starts making original work rather than copying others.
These are minor flaws, however, and The Pretty One is certainly funny, sweet, and simple in its construct. It’s a light-hearted take on the dead twin subgenre, and isn’t that all that we want just in time for Valentine’s Day?