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Film Review: “Clementine” Raises Difficult Questions It Is Never Equipped to Answer

Written by: Hannah Tran | May 8th, 2020

Film poster: “Clementine”

Clementine (Lara Jean Gallagher, 2019) 1½ out of 4 stars.

In her directorial debut, Clementine, writer-director Lara Jean Gallagher is unafraid to face off against many of today’s most controversial topics. Centering on Karen, a woman who goes to her ex’s lake house after being dumped, Clementine tells the story of her subsequent relationship with Lana, a younger girl at the lake whose backstory seems at best questionable. But while the relationship between Karen and Lana builds intrigue, it never is able to fully deliver on it.

We know exactly what Lana wants. More than a career as an actress or a potential romance with Karen, Lana simply wants to be believed. And Karen trepidatiously plays Lana’s game. But unlike Lana, it never becomes clear to us what exactly Karen wants out of her stay at the lake. It’s unfortunate, considering she is our main character. Matching her hazy intentions is an emotionally hazy performance from Otmara Marrero (My Daughter’s Dilemma). While her colorless tone and expressions make sense in reaction to her heartbreak, it soon becomes tedious to try to understand what her character is feeling, and it makes it difficult to latch onto any possible chemistry between her and Lana. Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney as Lana, however, nearly makes up for this with a genuinely youthful and refreshing believability that offers any and all sincerity that the movie has to offer.

L-R: Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney in CLEMENTINE ©Oscilloscope Laboratories

The mystery surrounding her character is just alluring enough to hold one’s interest. But as all of the suspicions built around her are confirmed, her inevitably tragic story makes everything leading up to it feel slightly misguided. The film raises a number of morally complicated issues, ranging from romantic age gaps to the cyclical nature of abuse to the power dynamics of sexual assault, yet it never allows itself the range or runtime to fully confront any of these. Worst of all, it lacks a certain self-awareness as to the morality concerning its central relationship between Lana and Karen, opting to nearly avoid the subject entirely. And by the final frame, this decision not only feels unfulfilling, but also semi-hypocritical in its apparent cowardice. 

Similar to these narrative contradictions, there are many tonal contradictions as well. Although the score is beautiful in its own right, it often feels inappropriately eerie and mystical considering the context of the story; it is also placed in so many moments that fail to match its dramatic intensity. So much of the dialogue feels meaningless and mundane, yet the score would like us to believe otherwise. Likewise, while the framing of the camera pushes the budgetary boundaries of the film to create numerous gracefully composed images, the dull colors limit the film’s progression and often make simple moments seem as though they’re out of a horror movie. While Clementine builds a world just interesting enough to keep you watching until its final moments, its final moments prove that the storytellers are not capable of making the watch worth its time.

L-R: Sydney Sweeney and Otmara Marrero in CLEMENTINE ©Oscilloscope Laboratories

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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