Dr. Donna Copeland’s




Kelly & Cal

 ​Juliette Lewis (August: Osage County) sure is working hard on a comeback. Two of the best films debuting at the SXSW film festival starred Lewis. Her performance in Kelly & Cal would win my best actress award for this years’ collection of movies. Lewis has been typecast for some time now as being an airhead, but in two projects takes control of her career here with a layered performance that equates to what Jennifer Aniston did with The Good Girl. Kelly & Cal is written by Amy Lowe Starbin (first time screenwriter), who writes these characters personally, as from experience. Also directed by a female (Jen McGowan), everything here feels authentic. Lewis and Jonny Weston (Chasing Mavericks) create a really special bond and the forbidden sexual tension between them filled the entire auditorium.

​ Struggling with depression and no self-esteem following her first pregnancy, Kelly (Lewis) hints to her hard working husband Josh (Hopkins) that she is ready for sex again. Her hints are ignored, but when a high school senior next door in their new neighborhood shows interest in Kelly she befriends him. It begins as a way to get the baby to stop crying by pushing him around in a stroller, but each time she ends up at Cal’s house, where he lives in the garage due to his injury that has left his legs paralyzed and motor functions limited. The two smoke and drink as he makes her feel attractive again while she provides him the attention no one else his age wants to give.

​ “You can’t define yourself by the things you’ve lost,” Kelly tells Cal. There is a lot of self-pity being thrown around in the film, and for anyone dealing with similar issues or circumstance; I think this beautiful script could be a real cathartic process. Throughout the entire film the audience is left in suspense of whether these two will actually give in to their impulses. Both are immature in their own way and Kelly struggles to gain the higher ground. Her empathy for Cal gets the better of her each time they hang out in his garage apartment; she understands very quickly that she has become his rock to lean on.

​ We watch as these two people have such an impact on each other that it begins to affect their lives outside their friendship, and it becomes destructive. “You paint a picture of what you want to see, and the reality never measures up,” Cal tells Kelly. McGowan and Starbin never push the relationship too far, but allow the story to develop, and the characters including Shepherd and Hopkins, who are great supporting players in this, to discuss the behaviors and meanings of Kelly’s actions. The script is filled with beautifully human moments, the right level of comedy and a whole lot of self exploration.

 Final Thought – Juliette Lewis gives one of, if not her best performance.

 Grade B+

By: Dustin Chase

 This is an incredibly well conceived and produced film about two major life events that are seldom portrayed with such insight and accuracy.  It looks like Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is suffering from postpartum depression, and although her husband (Josh Hopkins) is tender toward her, he is caught up in his career so doesn’t really attend to her—or even look at or talk to her.  She led an exciting life before her marriage, and the absence of that is experienced much more keenly in her depression.  She wanders into the neighborhood a bit and comes across cheeky Cal (Jonny Weston), who is in a wheelchair as the result of an accident, so they bond together around their losses.

 This begins the second major life event, which is an adult befriending a teenager still in high school, and the friendship gradually sliding into something more romantic than she had ever imagined.  The deceptive part is that they are really good for one another—ignoring all other variables—and they have a lot in common.  The problem with relationships that are unbalanced—such as in age—is that they are unpredictable, and even though the adult is clearly considered to be more responsible, that does not mean that he/she is always aware of a process taking place.

 The story in Kelly & Cal is very entertaining, starting out rather sad and frustrating (i.e., a baby constantly crying), moving to a delightful friendship, but ending up with high drama as the implications of that innocent connection begins to play out.  It’s a cautionary tale about the importance of attending to what is most important to one in life, as well as the dangers of an adult’s developing an exclusive friendship with a minor.  Jen MacGowan, the director, and Amy Lowe Starbin, writer, not only have great insight into the psychology of human relationships, but are excellent storytellers who can draw the audience in and hold their attention.

 Lewis is a gifted actress who is able to draw upon her talents (including musical) and experience to portray a conflicted woman whose own mother did not equip her for managing a newborn and dealing with loss.  Hopkins convincingly portrays her husband as a kind man with good intentions, and the two actors successfully show a genuine love between them.  Josh the character is absent a lot, and relies on his mother (Cybil Shepherd) and sister (Lucy Owen) to help Kelly.  Strikingly, they give her what they themselves would like, without consulting with her, and mostly missing the mark for her actual needs.  They play their parts well, and I was grateful that the script avoided the expected by not making them out to be ogres.

 Another of the fine actors is Jonny Weston who plays the teenage Cal with spunk and intelligence.  He conveys complex emotions and quick changes of mood, and is sharp in delivering quick retorts.

 This is a remarkable film by a young director who understands much about the psychology of humankind, and is able to show how positive outcomes may sometimes develop out of unfortunate circumstances and sticky situations.  Bravo, Jen MacGowan!

Grade:  A  

By Donna R. Copeland