First things first, I am not going to guarantee that you will like this film. That said, this venture by Jamie Babbit is raw, fresh, and gripping.
Speaking of fresh, Camilla Belle is Dot, a voluntary deaf/mute who, following the death of her father, goes to live with her godparents. Belle is a welcome face – with her unconventional beauty, and her unassuming posturing throughout the film.
Jamie Babbit, who brought us the delightful But I’m a Cheerleader (with Natasha Leone), casts a spectacular spell on us from the moment the film begins with a closeup on Belle’s face. Who, as a teenager, has not felt as though they completely disappear in a crowd? Who hasn’t wanted to stop talking, for just a bit of peace and quiet?
Elisha Cuthbert is fantastic as Nina, the bitchy, vixen daughter Dot is forced to live with in a house that is being remodeled by Edie Falco (wouldn’t you love her as your godmother, well maybe not so much after you see this film, but she’s gorgeous just the same). Edie spends much of the film totally vacant, blitzed out of her mind, on pain pills because “her hip still hurts at night.” I don’t know if anyone can even imagine what it would be like to only have one house to decorate. Obviously, you need a lot of pain pills to get through all of the madness.
Shawn Ashmore, who plays Connor, quickly develops an attraction to Dot when the two are paired in biology to dissect a fetal pig. Ahhhh… remember that project? Good times. I certainly don’t know if it would have been made any better by some gorgeous guy/girl fawning over me in bio as I had to locate and remove various organs. Gross.
It doesn’t take Babbitt long to reveal to us that Dot is indeed neither deaf nor mute as she ambles down the hallway and into a room with a piano that she immediately starts playing. Interesting. Why, then, the act? I think we’ll find out soon enough, if we’re patient (or, if we choose to fast forward a little — but then you’ll miss the scene in which Nina decides to make up Dot like a crazy clown doll). Girls can be so mean to each other.
When Dot reaches her hand into her father’s ashes and dips her fingers between her lips, I cringe a little. I’d just seen something similar to this last night in a movie called S. What is it with people and the consumption of human remains? If only that were the worst of it…
I would prefer not to recount every torrid detail of this movie, but I’m somehow compelled to tell you a little if for no other reason than to warn you, just in case you’re thinking of watching it. So, think of this as a PSA: this film contains family dynamics of a gross, unnatural manner between Nina and her father, played by Martin Donovan, who first came to my attention in Hal Hartley’s Amateur.
It’s amazing the things people would probably say to you if they thought you couldn’t hear them…witness the scene in which Falco tells Dot that her mother, who passed away from cancer when Dot was only 7 years old, was a “big, old, lucky slut. You look like your mother, you know that?” Apparently, Falco and Dot’s mother were best friends in school – hence the godparent gig. I’m not a godparent yet, thankfully. I wonder when that sort of stuff starts happening.
Part of me looks at Dot and sees myself in high school, alone, aloof, totally freakishly out of the loop, listening to people laugh and watching them point. But, what pisses me off is that Dot elects the life that plagues her. When Dot shows up at a movie that Nina and her friends are at, and watches as Nina presses her fingers into her ears to see what it must be like for Dot and they exchange glances in the darkened theatre I have to say my gaydar lit up a bit. But it’s just my wishful thinking and Babbit’s exploitation of that dynamic – in the end, it’s Nina’s best friend, Michelle, played by Katy Mixon (making her debut), that really sends out the vibes. Especially as Nina and Michelle lie in bed later that night watching adult films and talk about kissing. I had a friend like that once. Oh, high school. Thank God it only lasts four years (three, if you’re lucky).
Gross alert in the scene that follows in which Paul (Martin Donovan) enters Dot’s room in the middle of the night and confesses he’s sick while she pretends to sleep. Maybe I should let people know in advance, just in case I ever do go deaf (touch wood) – don’t sneak into my room in the night and confess anything to me. I’m a light sleeper and I worry. I don’t need to carry the weight of your guilt on top of my own. Thanks for understanding.
It’s thrilling when Nina walks in on Dot playing the piano at home (seriously, did she want to get found out, or what) and puts two and two together, raising her eyebrows. The jig is up. The next day at lunch (if you can call a Diet Coke and some Sour Patch Kids, lunch, which I do…I often eat a couple of Fig Newmans and a Coke for a meal) Nina tells Dot all about the gross family dynamic she shares with her dad, grabbing Dot’s finger and biting on it. Dot looks around like a trapped rabbit, pretending to be unable to hear what she’s hearing. Wishing she couldn’t hear what she’s hearing.
“I’m going to do it late. Mom won’t wake up. You can’t hear. It’ll just be me and my daddy and a bullet.”
Wow. What a conundrum.
To make matters worse, Connor then discovers her again playing the school piano, but, unlike Nina, he doesn’t even begin to think she might be faking. Boys complicate everything, even when they try not to. Especially when they try not to. I say this because Connor then springs up during dinner to see Dot, without warning, because he doesn’t think it would make much sense to call…Michelle arrives shortly thereafter (didn’t mention she’s totally crushing on Connor) with a paper bag. Does it have the gun in it? The gun Nina has threatened to use to kill her father? Who knows, it’s probably just a bag full of Sour Patch Kids and adult films. Kids these days.
Speaking of which, why is it that so-called high school kids always look so old in films? I’m pretty sure that Shawn Ashmore has been playing a high school student for the last 8 years (or, roughly since 2000 when he starred as Iceman in X-Men). I guess nothing is outside the realm of possibility when I’m still getting carded for beers at 30+.
Everytime I see Shawn Ashmore, I think of my nephew – he is the spitting image of him, only older. That only makes this whole movie that more complicated to watch. After their awkward hamburger and milkshake date, Dot returns home and listens at Nina’s bedroom door while she and dad “enjoy” more of their gross family dynamic. But, Dot’s not going to have it. She cracks a statue at the end of the hall. Nina bursts out of her room and the two share a knowing glance. Paul (dad) curses Dot out, feeling guilty, and pushes past her quickly.
The two girls are finally united, if in nothing more than the sharing of a secret. Sometimes, that’s all it takes, especially when the secret is as big as this one. Maybe, instead of being called The Quiet this film should have been called Nina and Dot’s Really Big, Gross Secret. At least then I would have been ready to be grossed out and I wouldn’t have expected less dialog.
Dot, fearing she’ll be an accomplice to murder, tries calling Child Protective Services, but can’t go through with it. After all, what proof does she have? Like most teenagers, she fails to act on the right impulse and makes a bad decision instead – choosing to sleep with Connor by the high school pool after he loses a basketball game. Another gross alert here (you’ve been warned) as he goes into very intimate details about his feelings for Dot thinking she can’t hear him. How awkward. Just how far can you take your deaf/mute act? At some point, I’d think you’d forget yourself and either start laughing or gasp. In this case, I’d do both.
Dot gets up and runs away from Connor after he rolls off of her at 5 to midnight. It’s almost time. Nina, ironing her cheerleading outfit, lets her father enter her room and tells him to sit on her bed, close his eyes. She brings the iron to his face and is about to grind it into his skin when Dot arrives. Instead of disfiguring him, she decides to tell him she’s pregnant. Makes sense. In the absence of a physical death, why not crush his soul?
It works. He retreats, disgusted, after promising to cut Nina a check for a $1000 abortion. She’s lied, of course, but a lie is better than murder. Nina goes to Dot. The two of them huddle close in the darkness.
“They say that the truth can set you free. That’s not true. Lies can protect us.” That seems to be the running theme of this movie. Lies pile on top of more lies which topple over even more lies.
Can I just say I’m glad I don’t have to depend on a lunch lady who knows sign language to have a meaningful conversation with my significant other? How uncomfortable would that be? I have a hard enough time on my own without having to rely on someone else’s interpretation of what I’m saying.
Everything comes to a head on the night of the big Spring Fling dance. And suddenly, it’s clear. Paul, aka “daddy”, must be punished. As Nina’s shouts are heard through the house, Dot comes up behind Paul with a piano wire and begins to strangle him yelling at the top of her lungs “Shut up!” Blood gushes from lacerations around his neck and he falls to the floor, dead. Stunned and disheveled, Nina runs to her father and begins to sob. Olivia (Falco) is behind Dot, and has seen everything.
“It’s a miracle.” She says, wide-eyed. “You can hear.”
The final word: This movie is twisted every which way to Sunday. The story is totally warped. Ultimately, it is the relationship between Dot and Nina that drive the film to it’s fateful ending. Masterful performances from its cast make this an intense thriller with an all too realistic edge.