Film Review: King Kelly

One of the cleverest, funniest and most appallingly true films of the year.

Movies don’t start much higher than Andrew Neel’s King Kelly, which very convincingly has his title character (Louisa Krause) cavorting sexually for the subscribers of her online webcam sex site. Incidentally, Kelly is a teenager, living at home, in the suburbs.

Supposedly assembled from cell-phone video footage, this ingenious, riotously funny romp through the attention-deficit-disordered minds of our 21st-century youth makes Marshall McLuhan’s famous “medium is the message” statement beyond literal in ways even he could never have known. The completely self-centered, ultra-shallow and narcissistic Kelly is one of the most obnoxious protagonists you’ll ever encounter and, also, like similar cinematic cuties such as Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Melanie Griffith in Something Wild and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, one of the most captivating. She’s also one of the truest, as anyone should be able to attest if they’ve spent a fair amount of time with the under-25 set lately. It’s funny how, on film, people you couldn’t stand to be around for five minutes can be so entertaining when written right.

Mike Roberts’ script absolutely nails this latest generation of slackadaisical, drugs- and sex-obsessed post-adolescents, with archetypes that make you affectionately smile in recognition, even as you’re laughing helplessly at their profound cluelessness. His plotting, involving as it does a stash of contraband in the trunk of a car connected to Kelly’s burned-too-often ex-boyfriend; her BFF, the numb-nut acolyte Jordan (Libby Woodbridge); a highway trooper (Roderick Hill) who happens to be one of Kelly’s most abject online fans, and various woozily hilarious stoners, is clever in the most bracingly organic way. This is one wild night that’s a funky, breathless pleasure to be a part of, and blast all the nay-saying critics who can’t get beyond Kelly’s abrasiveness to enjoy it and realize what Neel is truly trying to say. (I have friends who, to this day, cannot watch Bringing Up Baby because “Hepburn is so obnoxious in it.”) To Neel’s credit, in time-honored cinematic Cecil B. DeMille tradition, the wages of sin must be paid at the end, and he brings off the final sobering moment of retribution for Kelly with a poignant tact that is the perfect audience send-out.

The entire cast, from lead roles to Kelly’s frustrated family members, trying—unsuccessfully, with her present—to have a glorious Fourth of July, perform with unerring ease and wit. Krause tackles her role in the way James Agee once described Lucille Ball doing in The Big Street, “like it was sirloin and she didn’t care who was looking,” and with her slack-jawed Val Girl-speak and eternal air of outraged drama queen, she is utterly uproarious and utterly appalling. Woodbridge does well as her eternal dupe, and Hill, with that hangdog moustache which cops traditionally love for some unfathomable reason, brings sexiness and even more manic energy to this wonderfully on-target, delirious confection.