Karen, the 30-something main character in “Clementine,” is obsessed with a woman she keeps bumping into. Is Karen in love? Is the younger woman a ghostly projection of Karen’s desires? Or possibly a fractured part of herself that Karen’s longing has summoned into being?
Those are a lot of questions for a 90-minute movie, but “Clementine” ends up feeling longer because writer/director Lara Gallagher’s film is better at hinting at intriguing questions than exploring them. “Clementine” leans on our awareness of other movies with similar ideas — Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” may be the grandmother of them all. By the time we get to an unintentionally amusing scene in which, yes, the women actually braid each other’s hair (are they 6?), you may begin to suspect Gallagher has lost control.
The good news is that she hired excellent actors. Otmara Marrero’s Karen could come off as a brat, since we don’t know much of her back story when she moves into and trashes her ex’s remote cabin and then begins flirting with everyone she meets. But Marrero has a wounded intensity that hints at revelations to come about her character. Sydney Sweeney, one of the stars of HBO’s series “Euphoria,” has a tricky role (her name is Lana but she’s essentially Youth Untouched by Tragedy), but she makes her character so vivid that, much like Karen, we miss her when she’s not on screen. Will Brittain, as a mysterious dude, and Sonya Walger (Penny from “Lost”), as Karen’s surprisingly understanding ex, register strongly in small roles.
None of them has enough to do, unfortunately. “Clementine,” which is being shown in an arrangement that splits proceeds with the shuttered Parkway Theater, is a dreamlike character study, so it was never intended to be plot-driven. I like its willingness to spend time with Karen’s anger and confusion. But we need something more than hair-braiding to keep us going while we watch Karen process her feelings on walks through the woods.
Gallagher also gets great work from folks behind the scenes. Katy Jarzebowski’s slithery score suggests suspense even when the movie isn’t delivering it, and Andres Karu’s cinematography, which lingers over the sunny greens that Karen encounters in the forests she frequents, could make you long for the lake cabin you’re wishing you were holed up in right about now.
What all of those signs point to is that Gallagher is a talented director who coaxes great work from collaborators and knows how to use rhythm and suggestion to sustain a mood. As with a singer who only comes alive when she finds a great song, I’d be curious to see what happens if Gallagher could get her hands on a screenplay worthy of her talent.
⋆⋆½ out of 4 stars
Rating: Not rated but contains strong language and adult situations.
Where to watch: theparkwaytheater.com.