Quiet, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/01/06 01:19:18

"Hush Hush Sweet Camilla & Elisha!"
3 stars (Just Average)

As the end credits for “The Quiet” began to roll, I was fairly well convinced that I had just seen one of the silliest movies in recent memory. After all, the plot makes little to no sense by any rational standard, several potentially intriguing subplots are brought in from out of left field and then just as immediately abandoned and it all sort of wraps up with a climax so screwy that it makes the last reel of your average Marx Brothers movie look positively staid by comparison. However, in the weeks since I saw it, it has strangely grown in stature in my mind to the point where I can’t quite dismiss it as easily as I might have when I initially saw it.

Set in an anonymously affluent suburb, “The Quiet”centers on the Deer family–dad Paul (Martin Donovan), mom Olivia (Edie Falco) and teen-queen daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert)–and shows how their lives are upended by the arrival of Dot (Camilla Belle), the deaf daughter of an old family friend who recently passed away. Because she is convinced that Dot’s affliction is ruining her standing both at home, where she is no longer the center of attention, and at school, where any deviation from the status quo is frowned upon, Nina openly resents her new quasi-sibling and does all sorts of mean and catty things to let her know just how little she thinks of her. That said, Dot herself isn’t exactly broken up by this–she prefers to stay in her own little world and is disdainful of anyone who tries to reach out to her.

You can hardly make a suburban hell movie without your characters having plenty of secrets and in Dot, they have a sounding board whom they can unburden themselves to without fear of retribution. Some of the secrets are benign–Mom confesses that she never really liked Dot’s mother and the humky school jock (Shawn Ashmore) admits that it is her face that comes to mind during times of nocturnal admissions. Nina, on the other hand, has an enormous and shocking secret that Dot inadvertently discovers one night and is subsequently torn as to what to do about it. For her part, Dot also has a big secret as well that Nina inadvertently discovers–instead of blabbing it, she instead uses her knowledge to play some mind games with Dot to see how far she can take things. Inevitably, it all ends in an orgy of violence, stunning revelations, sexual tension and a prom scene so action-packed that it makes the one in “Carrie” look like an exceptionally dull square dance by comparison.

Using nothing more than sound critical judgement, any sane person would come to the conclusion that as a narrative, “The Quiet” is an enormous mess. The screenplay by Abdi Nazemian & Mica Schraft has no idea if it wants to be a straightforward melodrama or a social satire and there changes the approach seemingly from scene to scene. It introduces all sorts of intriguing ideas but has no idea of how to explore them or make them pay off in convincing manner–instead of being stunned when we learn the big secret that Dot has been hiding (which isn’t really that big of a secret if you think about it), we are less concerned with why she did what she did and more curious as to the simple mechanics of how she could have done it. Perhaps in an effort to distract from such question, the writers have thrown in any number of extraneous characters (the lovelorn jock could have easily been dispensed of without any real loss) and abruptly introduce subplots and then just as abruptly abandon them–what are we to make of the scene in which Nina’s fellow cheerleader makes a not-so-subtle pass at her, especially since it is never referred to again during the course of the film? Even those mistakes pale before the jumbled and nonsensical mess that is the finale–without giving too much away, don’t you think that one person in the school might have noticed that the deaf girl is suddenly acting in a very unusual way?

However, while “The Quiet” doesn’t really come off in terms of the big things, there are a lot of smaller things in the film that do work quite well. For starters, director Jamie Bell (in her first theatrical film since “But I’m a Cheerleader”) finds an intriguing tone for the proceedings that allows her to maintain a sense of uneasiness throughout without going over the top into outright weirdness–if Hal Hartley were to make a teen melodrama, it might look and feel a lot like “The Quiet” (an impression aided by the presence of Hartley regulars Donovan and Falco in the cast). I also liked the two central performances from Camilla Belle and Elisha Cuthbert as well. For Belle, it serves as a reminder of what a strong actress she is (as those of you who caught her going toe-to-toe with Daniel Day Lewis in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” know) and just how thoroughly her talent and off-beat good looks (including, as has been noted before, the greatest set of eyebrows since Brooke Shields) have been wasted in the junky likes of “The Chumscrubber” and “When a Stranger Calls.” For Cuthbert, best known for her sexpot roles in things like “24" and “The Girl Next Door,” her work demonstrates that she has more to offer as an actress than just an extremely pretty face–her character runs through virtually the entire gamut of human emotions and she handles the tricky role with surprising ease.

That said, despite the best efforts of Babbit, Belle and Cuthbert, “The Quiet” is still kind of a mess throughout and the final scenes are so unsatisfying that even the most indulgent of audiences are likely to throw their hands up in total frustration. And yet, while I still think it is a mess, I will admit that it is at least an interesting mess and that it does contain some highly worthwhile elements amid all of the nonsense. I can’t quite see my way towards actually recommend it to anyone but I will say that if my description sounds intriguing, you might want to give it a shot. In fact, I have the strangest feeling that if I came upon it a few months from now on cable, I might actually give it another look.

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