Elisha Cuthbert, Camilla Belle, Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, Shawn Ashmore, Katy Mixon, David Gallagher, Shannon Woodward"/>
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With: Elisha Cuthbert, Camilla Belle, Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, Shawn Ashmore, Katy Mixon, David Gallagher, Shannon Woodward
Written by: Abdi Nazemian, Micah Schraft
Directed by: Jamie Babbit
MPAA Rating: R for strong and disturbing sexual content, a scene of violence, language, drug content and brief nudity
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/12/2005

The Quiet (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Anywhere But Hear

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

People in the movie business will have a difficult time categorizing Jamie Babbit's The Quiet, a condition that very often results in the very best movies. For example, one could call Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a "comedy" or a "romance." But that wouldn't begin to do justice to that amazing film, just as simply describing Kill Bill as an "action" movie misses the point.

Sadly, The Quiet, which opens today at the Embarcadero in San Francisco and at the Shattuck in Berkeley, could have used a bit more categorization, deciding exactly what it wanted to be before it reached the shooting stage. Probably "dark drama" best describes it; it's not exactly a thriller, or if it's supposed to be, then it's not at all thrilling.

The Quiet begins when Dot (Camilla Belle), a deaf and dumb teenager with severe eyebrows, deep, brown eyes and mouth perpetually agape, moves in with her godparents after the death of her single father. Her new family seems well-to-do, but they have their own problems. Mom (Edie Falco) can't stop popping pills and can't shake herself out of a chemical haze. Dad (Martin Donovan) has been carrying on a relationship with the wrong member of the household. His daughter, Nina (Elisha Cuthbert), is the most beautiful girl in school, a blond cheerleader, but she has problems sustaining any relationships with boys.

Nina takes an instant dislike to Dot and enjoys tormenting her, talking about her while she's in the room, and verbally assaulting her. In one scene, she pretends to apply lipstick to her new "sister," but actually smears it all over Dot's inexpressive face. But eventually Nina discovers that she can tell Dot her deepest, darkest secrets; Dot isn't listening, and even if she were, she couldn't tell anyone. Others discover the same thing, notably school hunk Connor (Shawn Ashmore), who ignores the popular girls and becomes fascinated with Dot's withdrawn mysteries.

To say any more would be to spoil whatever surprises the film has in store for viewers who haven't already figured them out. But even though the film's destination and its beginning are meant to be disconnected by a drastic turn, their tones don't seem to belong together. One part tries to drum up sympathy for certain characters, while also keeping them at arm's length. Babbit wants us not to trust any of her characters completely, but wants us to love them at the same time. Then, the second part expects us to have our sympathies straight while it continues to spring new surprises.

And, frankly, none of the secrets are terribly worth keeping. Babbit drops in clues as early as the first scene as to the film's outcome, but still insists on withholding crucial information. Not to mention that the idea of a deaf person as a secret sounding board is slightly ridiculous and even potentially offensive.

Babbit's previous film, the funny But I'm a Cheerleader (2000), was a John Waters-like, pastel-colored satire about a camp that specialized in "erasing" lesbian tendencies, finding instead that getting a group of repressed lesbians together under one roof only aggravates their sex drives. Babbit apparently had a great deal of fun designing that film's bright, thematically-relevant colors, because she's done it again on The Quiet. Aided by cinematography by M. David Mullen, who shot all three of Mark and Michael Polish's films, Twin Falls Idaho (1999), Jackpot (2001) and Northfork (2003), as well as the recent Akeelah and the Bee, The Quiet has an effective metallic blue-gray sheen that helps mute its hysterical mood. The color red makes its first appearance later in the film.

Babbit also has a sure touch with her actors. Cuthbert transcends her cheerleader role and turns in a powerful performance of repression and rage. Falco is typically brilliant, and Donovan brings a wounded sensibility to his exhausted father, a man who keeps trying to make things work. And Katy Mixon, making her movie debut as Nina's sassy cheerleader pal, brings a welcome bit of catty humor. It's clear that Babbit is too open a director to be a secret-keeper. The film could have been re-jiggered as a psychotic after-school special, straightforward, without all the so-called twists that seem to be a requirement of thrillers today. Then The Quiet would have been worth lending our ears.

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