Feels like real life, and its insights are perceptive.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
This movie is a beautiful evocation of time and place. It has a wonderful feel for what it’s like to be a bored teenager in a dead-end Midwestern town. Karen Dee Carpenter – the film’s writer, director and cinematographer – obviously knows of what she speaks.
Just a hunch, but I think the idea for the script may have come from a real-life class assignment. The main character, Emily, is reading The Scarlet Letter, and she has to come up with what her own scarlet letter would be. This leads to some slightly clunky dialogue, as Emily talks about the book and says things like, “It’s a good thing you didn’t live back then. Red isn’t your color.” You expect her friends to roll their eyes rather than take her seriously. But the red-letter conceit pays off. Emily’s ultimate answer to what her scarlet letter would be turns out to be incredibly poignant. It justifies everything that’s come before.
This is basically a hang-out movie. Very little of it feels forces, and the situations are almost all believable. Emily and her friends had planned on going to a concert, but one of their dipshit brothers stole their ride, so now their stuck hanging out in town. They hop in the car of a handsome guy and drive out to the country, where nothing much happens. (Unless my memory of growing up in Kansas fails me, nothing much ever did.)
Carpenter has a really good eye. The establishing shots at the beginning set a sad, plaintive tone that never lets up. (She may have seen David Gordon Green’s gorgeous All the Real Girls.) In the way they dress and talk, all of the actors are believable as lower-middle class kids. The soundtrack is also unusually good for a low-budget short. My Scarlet Letter feels like real life, and its insights are perceptive.