“I’ve never broken one single heart.”
That’s one of the first lines in Clementine, the quiet new drama from writer/director Lara Jean Gallagher. Karen (Otmara Marrero, Vandal) says the line looking into the camera as her partner, D (Sonya Walger, Lost), films her, and raves about how young and beautiful Karen is. But we soon learn that D has broken up with Karen, and in a ploy to get her dog back (slash a spontaneous act of revenge/grief-processing), Karen drives out to D’s empty lake house, breaks in, and proceeds to form a tentative friendship with the enticing, mysterious, and much younger Lana (Sydney Sweeney, Sharp Objects) who is staying in a cabin across the lake.
That tender opening is a microcosm for the entire movie, which is Gallagher’s first time at the helm of a feature-length project. Clementine offers a brief window into how we grow and stretch through friendships, romantic intimacy, and heartbreak—starting with the energy and naivety of youth, and evolving into something a little wiser, and a little sadder, as we grow older.
In her directorial debut, Gallagher absolutely shines, and shows us that she already knows her stuff. The way each shot is framed is gorgeous, meticulous, and intentional. I was completely mesmerized by the light, and how it gently interacts with the beautiful Oregon scenery. This movie is also a textbook example of how to “show, not tell” in storytelling; I was able to glean SO much backstory from just the set, and watching Karen, with hardly any exposition required.
Gallaher also writes and portrays her characters in three dimensions; they are at times surprising and annoying, yet totally relatable. The story is simple, and there’s not too much dialogue, but each choice we watch the characters make, and every loaded glance they give one another, gives us one more peek into their brains and hearts. By the end credits, I felt like I’d really been through something intense right alongside Karen.
Some might describe this as a breakup movie, or a story about an almost-fling, but the layers and poignant elements add up to a much richer, more thoughtful piece than many other movies that fit that description. Clementine doesn’t just show the post-breakup grieving process, it reminds us that relationships change who we are forever. It doesn’t just offer a glimpse into what trauma looks like, it complicates trauma by showing how convoluted the human brain can be, especially in young people.
I guess the movie is a bit like women, in that they are way more varied and complex than you’d historically find in your run-of-the-mill Hollywood damsel. And with women dominating not only the screen but the crew credits as well (directing, producing, casting, composing, costuming, art directing, choreographing, sound editing, and more), that’s hardly a surprise!
For more information, check out the film's official website.