The teen couple jumping major Romeo-and-Juliet hurdles to find love in each other's loins is a mixed-race set of heartthrobs mutually attracted by the exotica of the Other.
Carlos (Jay Hernandez) is an ambitious East L.A. homeboy gunning for a place in the U.S. Naval Academy, while Nicole (Kirsten Dunst) lives high above the blood, sweat and tears of the barrio in her dysfunctional family's modernist Malibu glass house overlooking the ocean. Nicole is an aimless high school hell-raiser who first appears working off a DUI charge by spearing trash on the beach. It's there that the fallen rich girl catches the eye of Carlos, a Mexican-American kid from the wrong side of the tracks who is Dunst's better in every way: disciplined, respectful, goal-oriented. Having nothing, Carlos takes nothing for granted.
Director John Stockwell's portrait of Carlos' life can often feel a little too grim, but it's really a skewering of the comparatively sunshine-and-wealth drenched upper-middle class that's on the film's mind. And his deconstruction of Nicole's reconstituted neo-family is far more subtle and accurate than the bourgeoisie chicanery of adult fare like American Beauty. The choice of an über-stylized home, far from the cozy Spielberg ranches or dignified John Hughes colonials, is the kind of architectural subtext that speaks volumes about the director's intentions. Devoid of knick-knacks, comfy furniture or anything remotely "Beaver"-esque, the see-through homestead echoes Nicole's own cold, hard post-nuclear family.
While Carlos' life is defined by struggle, he still believes in goals. But Nicole has little incentive to join adulthood's ranks with a stepmonster who spends her afternoons interrogating the family maid about her toddler's ingestion of dairy products and a fed-up dad practically shoving her out of the family nest. Her father, Tom (Bruce Davison), is a liberal congressman with a PC agenda of helping even the most hope-impaired black and Hispanic communities, but he has given up on his own daughter.
Kirsten Dunst has become an increasingly promising screen presence. Her choice of roles has often shown a healthy irreverence for teen convention (Bring It On) and a soft-spot for wounded adolescents (The Virgin Suicides). Dunst's pixy-pretty face has a devilishly changeable quality to it, too, and that deceptively conventional surface hiding the sadness of a character like Nicole is used to splendid advantage in crazy/beautiful.
Dunst brings a likable quality to her idealism-sapped California princess. She makes Nicole both obnoxious -- as when she parades out of her bedroom in her underwear to snag a condom from the family medicine cabinet (all within full view of her Mexican housekeeper) -- and touching, with glimpses of the directionless kid beneath the hip-girl act. Raised with every advantage and an obviously large amount of permissiveness, Nicole is crushed by all that freedom and opportunity while the narrow path plotted out for Carlos and his lack of options has created a man of integrity.
Director Stockwell thus invests a fairly routine poor-little-rich-girl/underprivileged boy scenario with a potent social message couched in a fable of white privilege and guilt vs. the sturdier character of the lower economic ranks
Stockwell takes plenty of pointed jabs at a decaying middle class, from high school kids learning about Shakespeare via TV and the soulless mechanics of teen sex in Carlos and Nicole's first encounter to the aimless suburban wastoid-ery of a punk rock hot tub party and trophy moms with bare midriffs and navel piercings pushing their toddlers through posh cafe-strewn shopping zones.
Within an endearing love story featuring a pair of likable actors is a cautionary tale of parenting and a world of misguided values that might make crazy/beautiful as illuminating to adults as it is reassuring to teens.
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