More of a fairy story than a straightforward film, this is part-enchanting, part-naive, and a comprehensively beautiful first film from writer/director Rebecca Thomas about innocence, belief and the power of belief.
Rachel is a 15 year old, but she is not like other 15 year olds. Although it is the mid-90s, she has grown up in complete isolation from the modern world, since her father is the leader of a small and strict Christian sect, to which she is bound with ties of blood and faith. But one day she discovers a cassette tape recorder, and hears a version of "Hangin' On The Telephone" which rocks her world in the most profound sense. A few weeks later, she discovers she is pregnant, and tells her family that it was the music that impregnated her, and no human being. And she genuinely believes it.
The parents are understandably sceptical, and suspicion falls on her brother. But before he can be expelled from the family, and she can be married off to a stranger, she makes a run for it, and ends up in Las Vegas, brother in tow, where she falls in with a loose affiliation of musicians, stoners and skateboarders, one of whom, Clyde, takes a shine to Rachel, and even puts up with the brother, Mr Will, who doesn't want to be there anyway.
I better stop now, before I tell you the whole plot, which would be irritating of me, but the temptation is there because of the paradoxes, anomalies and coincidences with which the plot is littered. But while logic and reason are not the film's most prominent features, there is a lot else going on which is appealing. Julia Garner is the star of the film, both literally and metaphorically. Having already appeared in the superior and similar Martha Marcy May Marlene, she looks set for a stellar career (she has 7 more films lined up over the next 18 months). As Rachel, she has the face of an angel, the soul of an innocent, and the camera just loves her.
Rory Culkin, the best of the brothers, is excellent. He manages to combine a puppyish innocence with a world weary charm. And the rest of the cast, including Billy Zane as the father/preacher, are all good. In fact, the film has a lot to recommend it, as long as you are willing to put up with a good deal of implausibility and narrative illogic, all designed to get us to where the director wants to be, irrespective of whether it makes any sense. I liked it, but it could have done with a tad less whimsy.
By Phil Raby
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