Relying too heavily on a central ambiguity that throws her whole movie off-kilter, director Jamie Babbit's follow-up to BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER (1999) is an unconvincing and uninvolving psychological thriller about the ugly reality festering behind the pristine facade of a "respectable" upper-middle-class family. To all appearances, Nina Deer (Elisha Cuthbert) has the perfect life: She's a popular cheerleader; she lives in one of the nicest homes in her upscale Connecticut neighborhood; her architect father, Paul (Martin Donovan), is totally hot, and her interior-decorator mom, Olivia (Edie Falco), is a babe, at least according to Nina's best friend, Michelle (Katy Mixon); and she's the prettiest girl in school who could get any guy in school if she wanted to. But Nina doesn't, because she's is harboring a terrible secret (ready for it?): Each night after Mom pops one pill too many and passes out cold, Dad sneaks into Nina's room and has sex with his daughter. 7 years old. Dot, too, is severely hearing impaired — she lost the ability to hear not long after mother died, and hasn't spoken since then, either — and Nina never misses an opportunity to make her feel like a freak, both at home and at school where Dot's shunned by most of her fellow students. To those who feel the need to unburden themselves without consequence, Dot's inability to hear makes her the perfect confidante, and she soon becomes the unwitting recipient of the secret fears and desires of total strangers, such as Michelle's crush, Connor (Shawn Ashmore), a popular basketball player who's become entranced by Dot's calm silence and her soulful piano playing. (Beethoven, who produced some of his most heroic music after he lost his hearing, is Dot's role model.) Even Nina, who soon begins to suspect that Dot's actually taking in more than she's letting on, begins opening up to her new sister, and starts whispering her plans to put a permanent end to the sexual abuse. The ace cast and a good performance by Cuthbert aren't enough to overcome the film's insistence on keeping the true nature of Dot's disability a secret, but by keeping us in the dark regarding how much Dot is able to hear, it's hard to interpret many key scenes. When Connor starts regaling Dot with his masturbatory habits, can she hear him? Does she care? Should we? Another misstep is cinematographer David Mullen's decision to use smoke as a means of softening the hard edge you sometimes get with high-definition video. Unfortunately, it only makes it look as if the rooms are filling up with smoke, and the film's biggest mystery becomes why no one in the troubled Deer family seems to notice that their house is on fire.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: Relying too heavily on a central ambiguity that throws her whole movie off-kilter, director Jamie Babbit's follow-up to BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER (1999) is an unconvincing and uninvolving psychological thriller about the ugly reality festering behind the prist… (more)