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Originally published Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'The Exploding Girl': A restrained, moving portrait of a troubled young woman

A review of Bradley Rust Gray's restrained but moving "The Exploding Girl," starring Zoe Kazan.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'The Exploding Girl,' with Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall, Maryann Urbano. Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray. 80 minutes. Not rated, suitable for middle-school viewers and up. Varsity.

Bradley Rust Gray's restrained but moving "The Exploding Girl" is a Zen-like experience of watchful compassion in deliberately challenging circumstances: trying to see and hear, without leaping to conclusions, the gathering troubles of a young woman living in hectic circles and with increasing self-absorption.

A bare-bones story almost smothered within the clutter and noise of a vibrant New York City, and featuring a taciturn heroine slipping from the gaze of those who know her, "Girl" turns the audience into the only objective witness taking full note of Ivy (Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of director Elia Kazan), a college student on break in Manhattan.

Staying with her mother (Maryann Urbano) and hanging out with her best friend since eighth grade, Al (Mark Rendall), Ivy starts her vacation in a good mood.

She anticipates getting phone calls from a new boyfriend at school, and gets a thumbs-up from the doctor helping Ivy control her epilepsy.

In short order, the boyfriend dumps her, she's on a slippery slope medically, mom is too busy, she's a wallflower at parties and, worst of all (despite their I-like-you-as-a-friend pact), Al shows interest in other women.

Ivy says nothing, sinking into isolation, despair and sleepiness — a downward synergy between depression and petit-Mal episodes.

"The Exploding Girl" can strike an audience as an obscure, frustrating experience, given its muted exposition and muddled visuals.

When I first saw the film a year ago, I described it as "maddening."

A second viewing helped me realize writer-director Gray is after a unique fusion of non-attachment and emotional privacy.

Nowhere is this more powerful than in a scene where Al, no longer merely steadfast but coming to terms with his real feelings for Ivy, sees her through grand-Mal convulsions.

Gray allows us to see the shocking action only partially, from a separate room and through a tiny space between objects.

The view is only maddening if one doesn't see the moment really belongs to those two kids. What we bring to the moment, or should, anyway, is goodwill.

Tom Keogh:

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