Startlingly good lead performances by two new actresses give some distinction to “Fun,” an absorbing study of crime and absent values among contemporary teenagers that nonetheless feels unjelled and schizophrenic.
Director Rafal Zielinski holds our interest with some intriguing artistic strategies, brutal subject matter and live-wire characterizations, but pic’s tendency to repeatedly wobble between honest reporting and faintly exploitative voyeurism casts the proceedings in an uneasy light. The acting and touchy, timely topic give critics and certain audiences something to respond to here, but reactions will be divided and commercial chances look iffy.
Zielinski, Polish-born helmer who has spent most of his career on commercial fodder such as “Screwballs” and “Spellcaster,” but who had one previous Sundance entry in “Ginger Ale Afternoon,” tries hard to give this theatrical adaptation an edgy, artistic veneer and succeeds up to a point.
Skipping back and forth in time and cinematic styles to recount how two teenage girls immediately bonded and committed a senseless murder, resourceful low-budgeter conveys seriousness and immediacy, but ends up having less to say about its contentious issues than the filmmakers might like to imagine.
James Bosley’s screenplay, which is based on his play, delineates the exceedingly brief criminal careers of Bonnie and Hillary, two girls whose idea of a good time gets rather out of hand. Meeting by chance on a California roadside, they start sharing intimacies and secrets that are largely lies, and finally knock off a little old lady just for the hell of it.
This narrative, which is shot in vibrant color, is broken up and set in relief by an equal amount of raw, black-and-white material set in the juvenile detention facility where the girls are being held.
The verite-like interrogation sessions reveal resentful, immature kids who reject all values except for their motto, “Fun is No. 1.” The reason for their detention is cleverly kept a mystery for virtually half the running time, but once revealed, the girls express no remorse for their crime, as it was big-time fun in their book.
Some time ago, such a story would have been shocking. But while the externals of the case are potent, the tale is not sufficiently fleshed out or analyzed to get chillingly under the skin, and the rendering is too schematic to make it emotionally affecting.
If the film had some particularly telling insight into the behavior of the girls, a point of view that provided some unusual understanding, its raison d’etre would be clear. But running through the film there is a creepy, if subtle , feeling of surreptitious peering into the secret lives of naughty, wild young ladies, done under the guise of artistic seriousness, that creates a nagging discrepancy between the film’s presumed intentions and its visceral effect. Still, the performances by Witt and Humphrey go a long way toward giving the film a stinging legitimacy. Making their characters frighteningly grown-up insome ways and nearly infantile in others, the young actresses are vital and electrifying, and certainly bear watching in the future.
As the counselor, Leslie Hope provides an intriguingly brittle foil for her charge’s impudence, while William R. Moses is hamstrung by an unsympathetic part as the writer looking to cash in on the girls’ sensationalistic act.
Cinematographer Jens Sturup exhibits expertise in two styles, the luminous color narrative and the mostly hand-held, docu-style B&W, although the novelty of the approach wears thin by the end.