Studio: Dread Central Presents
Director: Natasha Kermani
Writer: Natasha Kermani
Producer: Forrest McClain
Stars: Lauren Ashley Carter, Neimah Djourabchi, Adam David Thompson, Catherine Mary Stewart, Stefanie Woodburn, Sanam Erfani, Kevin O’Rourke, Brian Morvant, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Lewis Black
A cosmic event inexplicably creates a curious doppelganger of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her life.
I’m normally not prone to over-thinking review scores, as they’re often arbitrary anyway. But “Imitation Girl” causes me to consider what criteria should influence a grade, specifically in this somewhat confounding circumstance.
“Imitation Girl’s” stream of consciousness philosophizing in film fable form doesn’t strike any personally appealing chords. More to the point, I don’t “get” the movie’s metaphoric message. However, I assume it has one hiding somewhere in its ambling assembly of montage musings, introspective interludes, and quiet scenes of character study. So do I paint an unfavorable picture because the movie uncoupled my interest early and never sought to reattach it? Or do I presume the film’s artistic merit might more readily reveal itself to an objectively engaged mind?
In other words, do I rate a movie for myself or for an imaginary median of average moviegoers? And how do I know those two perspectives don’t yield the same number?
Roger Ebert, who wrote of his own challenges with equating a star system to a binary thumb, said he skewed his ratings higher because he preferred swaying someone to see a movie s/he ultimately disliked as opposed to dissuading someone from seeing a film s/he would have enjoyed. With that idea in mind, I’m rating “Imitation Girl” down the middle because if the film laid an egg atop a steepled roof, I have no idea which side it would roll down.
That analogy makes about as much sense as the movie. Since I can’t completely determine what to critique, the only avenue I see toward making this review useful is to essentially describe the film matter of factly. Maybe you can make more out of “Imitation Girl’s” intentions than I could and come up with a conclusion on your own.
After a cosmic prologue, “Imitation Girl” opens on a static wide shot of an abandoned gas station. For a full 90 seconds, a boy bikes up to a post and waits for two other teens to arrive in their car. For another 90 seconds, the trio brokers a deal whereby the boy buys some booze out of the car’s trunk.
Cut to the boy biking into the desert. Over the following two minutes, the boy pops a squat, takes a swig, and settles in to thumb through a magazine with adult film actress Julianna Fox on the cover.
A hole in the sky suddenly interrupts pubescent private time. Something shoots from outer space onto the ground, sending the kid scurrying for safety. Black ooze rolls across the magazine cover and from the muck materializes a clone of Julianna. With both the curiosity and confusion of a vulnerable child, this titular alien stumbles down the road, observing an animal carcass and feeling pain for the first time upon touching a barbed wire fence.
What does “Imitation Girl” set up by spending seven of these ten minutes with a character never seen again? Certainly nothing related to narrative. Writer/director Natasha Kermani seemingly intends only to calibrate her patiently plotted tone, which unequivocally establishes “Imitation Girl” as a meanderingly meditative mumblecore movie.
With that out of the way, Julianna proper at last makes an appearance. She’s a lost girl navigating a strange world less literally. Days are spent passionlessly acting in pornography. Nights are occupied by a passionless relationship with an unambitious bartender boyfriend. And if Julianna isn’t helping him sell drugs on the side, she is snorting the coke for herself to numb plentiful interior pain.
Both women are desperate for an authentic interpersonal connection, but the imitation finds one first. Instead of calling police (“why would we call the police?” he asks to address the elephant question without actually explaining), Iranian expatriate Saghi “adopts” the disheveled doppelganger who initially doesn’t speak a word. Saghi’s sister Khahar helps him teach the imitation everything from how to use the bathroom to how to prepare food. With her efforts to understand humanity expanding while Julianna’s own identity contracts, the original and the copy are put on a path where their similarities and differences are destined to intersect and reflect.
What that reflection reveals is where the movie loses its emotionally intellectualized footing. Thinking that filmmaker Natasha Kermani aims to provoke ponderings through mood that I missed unconsciously, I backtracked after end credits to consciously look for parallels potentially put into play. I didn’t find any clues to make the movie’s meaning clearer.
It’s 50/50 if the two plotlines are even thematically concurrent or rubber-banding their arcs opposite of each other. For instance, the imitation cuts herself near the beginning while Julianna cuts herself near the end. Except the imitation pricks her palm and Juliana slices her finger, so if respective experiences are somehow mirroring each other, I don’t know what the takeaway says.
Given the handheld camera, actors out of Mickey Keating’s stable, and arthouse auteur flavor, “Imitation Girl” needs only a Larry Fessenden producer credit to complete the New York genre indie checklist. That’s not a judgment, just another straight statement to describe how the film feels.
I’m too cowardly to conclude “Imitation Girl” puts on a pretentious appearance of being deeply insightful without putting tangibility into its dreamlike texture. Yet no matter how hard I poke at a cutaway of dirt swirling down a shower drain, I can’t concoct sensible conjecture regarding why Kermani makes the choices she does.
Again, I’ll simply surrender that maybe the movie is over my head. And maybe you’ll have a captivating experience where I could not. I’d say circle back after and throw me a rope should this be the case, although the reality is, I’m unlikely to remember much of anything about “Imitation Girl” by then.
Review Score: 50