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|Film review: Electrick Children|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 09 July 2012 14:50|
Director: Rebecca Thomas
"Pregnant from rock and roll?" That’s the question asked of Rachel by her incredulous mother. The 15 year old’s answer is simple. "It’s a miracle." And she really believes it: that a tiny blue cassette tape that she found in the basement knocked her up through the combined power of God and rock and/or roll. That subtle balance of naivety and nonsense is what gives Electrick Children such a spark.
Needless to say, no one else in her Mormon community shares Rachel's belief. Not her mum. Not her sisters. Not even her fundamentalist father (an excellent Billy Zane). He’d rather see her married to Joshua, the respectable Mormon boy next door.
So Rachel runs away from the isolated Utah commune to nearby Las Vegas. There, among the bright lights and sin, she reasons, she will discover the man who sang the song that changed her life – and, of course, implanted magical semen in her virginal womb through some kind of religious/acoustic osmosis.
Walking the neon-lit streets, she soon bumps into Clyde (Culkin), a young tearaway with long hair and a distant expression. He has a guitar. He’s in a band. Maybe he knows her baby's father. A matter of minutes later and she clambers into his van, off into the hazy nightlife of the real world - followed by her suspicious brother (Aiken).
In the hands of another filmmaker, this would turn into an elaborate joke: a fish out of water farce with Mormons at the brunt of it. Not Rebecca Thomas. Her heartfelt tale is more sincere than that. From the scuzzy handheld visuals to the carefully painted landscapes, Rachel's coming-of-age carries an engaging sense of dazed discovery - a tender tone anchored by Julia Gardner's lead.
As a modern-day Mary, Gardner (last seen in the fantastic Martha Marcy May Marlene - this film's polar opposite cousin) is gorgeously vulnerable. She's a wide-eyed girl who spends most of the film looking shy and calling her brother "Mr. Willl", the perfect mix of innocent and stubborn.
Combined with Rory Culkin's adorably lost loser, they make an instantly sympathetic couple: as much joined together by their clueless optimism as anything else.
The amiable tale gently unspools, hinting at explanations for Rachel's mysterious pregnancy. But the answer, you feel, comes near the start, when she first listens to the forbidden music (a song by The Nerves). Dancing quietly in the dark, the camera creeps slowly up her legs, sharing the moment without questioning it. And that heady, lo-fi intimacy carries you all the way to the unexpected familly-bound conclusion, which leaves you hanging there, singing the same song over and over again.
Electrick Children is an adorable, immaculately conceived gem.