Right around this time every year is the time when many of the darlings of the year’s film festivals get their chances to shine in limited releases across the country. One such particular darling made its way to my corner of the world this week, Bare, a film that made its debut back in April at the Tribeca Film Festival and about which I had heard mostly good things ever since.
Bare tells the story of Sarah Barton (Dianna Agron), a bored, somewhat lonely girl living in a Nevada desert town whose life has seemingly lost its direction. She drifts from store job to store job and is beginning to feel disconnected both from her family, her boyfriend and her group of friends, all of whom seem to be making more life progress than her in terms of engagements and job prospects. Sarah’s life is injected with something different, however, when she forms an intense and ultimately romantic relationship with Pepper (Paz de la Huerta), a seductive female drifter whom she finds squatting in an old property owned by her father. In a somewhat typical portrayal of young rebellion, Sarah is introduced to many different life experiences with Pepper at her side, from same sex relationships to drug taking, to a few less typical actions like getting a job in the local strip club and spending a night in jail. Whilst the audience can sense that there is something freeing and life affirming about the leaps that Sarah’s character takes throughout the narrative, there is always the feeling that this whirlwind life change can only end a certain way, and I give credit to the filmmakers for satisfying the narrative convention in some ways but bucking it in others. Though the film offers very little originality in terms of adding to the much told and well worn theme of late teen rebellion, there is something undeniably captivating about it, with the filmmakers successfully managing to convey the irresistible urge that Sarah has to break away from the crushing suburban norm of her everyday life and open herself up to new, exciting and potentially dangerous experiences. One particular positive is that the choice for Sarah to fall in love with another woman instead of another man does not feel in any way exploitative, and at the same time there is no crises of character on the protagonist’s part. This sexual fluidity that defines this new chapter in Sarah’s life helps to even further contrast it from the mundane structure of her old life, it’s not a film about a woman becoming a lesbian, nor is it one of those terrible films where a woman sees the error of her ways and ‘returns to heterosexuality’, what matters here is that Pepper is the only character within the narrative with whom Sarah felt she could connect on a personal level, regardless of gender. Ultimately the film is a snapshot of a time in a young person’s life when they are stuck in a limbo of fear of obscurity and temptation of the unknown, and the tone, atmosphere and performances presented make the snapshot and enjoyable and tightly executed one to watch.
And speaking of the performances, the small scale picture relies on the presence of it’s two leading ladies to keep the audience engaged, a task that they both achieve successfully. As Sarah, Dianna Agron posseses the perfect combination of girl next door mixed with an undertone of mischief to be able to carry the role believably, though she might look like a fish out of water in some of the narrative’s most risqué moments, it feels very much like a character choice rather than an acting flaw. Something I particularly enjoy about Agron, even going back to her days in Glee, is the way in which she can say a lot when her face is doing very little, and these micro gestures are incredibly fitting of a young female character who from the beginning is shown not to be comfortable in her own skin. As the elusive and seductive Pepper, Paz de la Huerta gives a performance that is as much about her physical attributes as it is her acting ability. Opposite to Agron in every way from her hair colour to her height to her confident body language, de la Huerta creates a character that makes it easy for the audience to believe in the whirlwind nature of Sarah’s affections and rash decision making in her presence. The pair share a palpable chemistry, one which really fuels the picture. The best kind of on screen romances are those about which the audience can see both the pros and cons of the partnership, and in Sarah and Pepper the film boasts a couple that are so right for each other in some ways and so wrong for each other in others.
Overall, Bare is a captivating and raw drama that showcases both the personal freedoms and consequences that can occur when breaking the mould in small town America. Part coming of age, part self discovery, part melodrama, the film boasts strong performances from two talented leading actresses and explores themes that, though well worn in the cinematic universe, are given an atmospheric and intense representation. A great move in to more mature forms of entertainment for Dianna Agron and an intriguing introduction, for me, at least, to Paz de la Huerta.