Juliette Lewis is a national treasure. If there’s a single thing I didn’t write enough about in From Dusk Till Dawn, it’s how fucking good Juliette Lewis is. She’s just amazing in everything she’s ever made. She brought every bit of teenage angst and warmhearted cynicism that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation required. She landed an Oscar nomination for standing up to Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear. She exploded with ferocity in Natural Born Killers. She was the best thing in Mike Figgis’ Cold Creek Manor, delivering a better performance than that movie deserved. Every time I see her name on the screen, I know there will be moments of genius regardless of the movie surrounding her.
Jen McGowan’s 2014 film Kelly & Cal came and went with barely a notice. The middle-aged Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is a former punk rocker having a midlife crisis as she finds herself trapped in suburbia with a boring husband (Josh Hopkins) who works late at his ad agency and a new baby representing the final nail in her transition from rebel to mother. Making things worse, Kelly’s mother- and sister-in-law are on hand to condescendingly force Kelly’s transition to become what she sees as a Stepford Wife. It’s when she discovers the 17-year-old Cal (Jonny Weston), a former athlete embittered by his recent paralysis. If this sounds familiar, one could easily see Kelly & Cal as the gender flipped formula of Anomalisa, where a tortured older woman finds solace in a damaged younger male even as the whole world seems unified against them.
Visually, Kelly & Cal is as visually compelling as your basic television reality tv show. That is to say, it’s a basic movie on a tiny budget. But, where it differs is in the details and in the performances of the central characters. Juliette Lewis brings her own rocker past to the role of Kelly, striking the perfect balance between reveling in Cal’s youth and struggling to make her own spin on the stodgy soccer mom role. Weston plays off Lewis with nuance and fury, holding his own against a force of nature. These two are so singularly strong, every other aspect kind of falls mute in response.
Kelly & Cal airs on Showtime Next at 9:05am and 8:00pm.