Film Review: The Exploding Girl

Small-scale, effective character study of a young woman struggling to cope with physical and romantic turmoil.

The emotional detonations prove minor but movingly resonant in The Exploding Girl, an indie character study built four-square round Zoe Kazan's persuasive performance.

Granddaughter of Elia, the elfin-featured 25-year-old (Revolutionary Road) quietly dominates this latest feature from husband-and-wife team Bradley Rust Gray—who writes, directs, co-produces and co-edits here—and Korean-American So Young Kim (Treeless Mountain), who serves as co-producer, co-editor and assistant director.

Intended to complement the latter's award-winning debut In Between Days—the movies are named for sides of the same Cure single—this delicate Brooklyn love story functions just fine on its own limited terms. This nicely etched miniature is likely to be passionately embraced by some while leaving many nonplussed: Think Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know meets Aaron Katz's Quiet City.

Quiet City ranked among the stronger offshoots of the much-hyped/derided "Mumblecore" movement—and The Exploding Girl comes across as a high-toned extension of the mini-genre. As shot on lustrous, pin-sharp HD-CAM by cinematographer Eric Lin, it's a slick-looking affair that "eavesdrops" and "spies" on its characters amid the constant, crowded hubbub of summer in the city.

Focus is four-square on 20ish university student Ivy (Kazan), as she idles away her long vacation back at home with her seldom-seen dance teacher mom (Maryann Urbano). Ivy's lukewarm-at-best relationship with fellow student Greg (Franklin Pipp) is turning decidedly tepid, just as she's re-examining her feelings towards longtime best bud Al (Mark Rendall). Adding further complications—and compromising her independence—is Ivy's epilepsy, kept in check via medication.

Though it traces a fairly predictable arc, the story follows some intriguing tangents along the way as Ivy and Al inch toward acknowledging their simmering mutual feelings. And via Kazan's skilled, nuanced, empathetic characterization—especially during several dialogue-free sequences where she communicates Ivy's inner life solely via facial expressions—we're with this girl every step of the way.

While Kazan is MVP of The Exploding Girl, kudos are also due to sound editor Michael Sterkin, who unobtrusively crafts a 3D aural background featuring planes, birds, traffic, snatched fragments of conversation and myriad urban ephemera.
-The Hollywood Reporter