Tallgrass Film Festival Review: Clementine

Breakups and rebounds are an ugly thing. Relationships are a binder that holds two people together. When the couple separates the other person’s traits can often show up in our lives as part of our grieving process. What’s interesting about Clementine is that it really does take a keen eye and a knowledge of what a breakup feels like to get through this one.

First time writer/director Lara Jean Gallagher did something special here, using a home and its surrounding natural environment to create the isolated emotional response of someone that just got dumped. Karen (Otmara Marrero) was just let go by her older girlfriend, left broken and alone without a way to process what just happened. Her ex, only known as D (Sonya Waiger), kept the dog they got together and changed the locks so Karen can’t get her back. The only natural response is for the jilted lover to drive way up north and break into her ex’s lakehouse to hang out till the dog is returned. Makes sense, right? Out of nowhere a young woman named Lana (Sidney Sweeney) shows up and everything gets…complicated. 

Right off the bat, let’s talk about the performances because they are wonderful across the board. Director Lara Jean Gallagher hadn’t met any of her performers before shooting, with casting directors tagging in to get that job done during pre-production. She scored with all of them and gained a cast to die for. It’s telling that Sidney Sweeney showed up with a character vastly different than what Gallagher had originally envisioned and was given free reign to continue in that vein. Sweeney, according to the director, created a diary and behavior pattern for the character that was unique to the actress and molded how the filming progressed. That level of flexibility is hard on an indie script as the budget will be hard to work around and the fact that they just went for it is damned impressive.

That said…we gotta talk about the dialogue. Look, it’s solid, but it feels decidedly unhuman. While real people’s words crawl all over each other like maggots, the film’s dialogue is structured and layered. Everyone waits for their conversational partners to finish their perfectly-crafted sentences and then deliver a highly poignant reply. It all feels very clinical and rehearsed, which is surprising because Gallagher stated that they didn’t have time to rehearse because of budget constraints. Instead these people feel like pastiches, a triptych of women that are full of manipulated emotions and lies back and forth. They’re archetypes for the modern era, the emotionally manipulative older individual grooming their sexual partner to do the same once set free into the wild.

Issues with the dialogue aside I adored the rest of this film. The subject matter is complicated but real, asking us to think about our rebounds and breakups. It asks us to be understanding when we’re manipulated in a relationship and to take no quarter when treated with emotional abuse and gaslighting. It asks us to question our questionable decisions. 

The audio is kind of sexy, composed by Katy Jarzebowski using sound design to blend into the film’s musical score and soundtrack. Sticks break in time to the songs, the pay-to-play music is woven into the original music, and it’s all so damn stunning.
Clementine isn’t an easy film. It’s one that follows the ideas of manipulation, sexual awakening, and the entire justification of the “age is just a number” argument. It’s cocally something you should see, though, if you can get to it in the theatre. You’re gonna love it.

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