While watching Bare, the new, middle of nowhere indie melodrama, the thought of “I’ve seen this movie before” kept itching at the back of my head. From the small town girl meeting the exotic stranger, and compromising her wholesome beliefs for a wilder lifestyle, to the stranger showing the small town girl her most favorite place in the world (which is typically just an arbitrary strip of scenery on the side of the road), to the night of fun where the small town girl cuts loose and there’s a montage of the shenanigans they get up to.
The only difference is that in Bare, the two characters are female, and the romance still exists. Natalia Leite had the chance to play with conventional storytelling, with a romance that doesn’t mirror it’s genre contemporaries, but instead, the romance in insipid, the love interest Pepper (played by a mumbling Paz de la Huerta) shallow, and the journey for once less interesting than the destination. Shot beautifully, with the doll like Dianna Agron as the lead, the film isn’t short for aesthetically pleasing imagery, but it’s interest ends where it begins, in a dry, expansive landscape where nothing happens.
Dianna Agron plays Sarah, a young woman living in Nevada whose prospects are dwindling, caught by her own fear of being stuck in her small town forever. After being fired from another job, she meets Pepper (Huerta) a spirited woman, a drug dealer who owess a lot of money to a dangerous man. The two strike up a friendship, and then quickly a romance, that gives Sarah the strength to assert herself in her own life and make decisions based on her own happiness, rather than others.
The relationship between Sarah and Pepper is never built up enough to be anything other than purely a narrative necessity, and we’re never seen why Sarah would be allured by Pepper in the first place, other than seeing Pepper as a stranger to her constant familiarity. While I can’t deny my excitement at seeing a romance blossom between the two women, and the films tackling of female sexuality that seems celebratory rather than exploitative, I wish the chemistry between Agron and Huerta had managed to carry the dialogue and instead it was simply serviceable.
The film should have worked the angle of it being a self-discovery piece for Sarah because that’s where the film hit its strongest chords. Sarah working at the strip club isn’t all together a new concept, especially with the good girl gone bad story beats these type of films like to trod on, but it would have been interesting to see how Sarah gains confidence from the experience and owning of her sexuality. Sarah is written with little characterization, as we’re never quite sure just why she’s so miserable in the first place, but this could have been ignored if her journey to discovering her happiness and self-worth had been engaging. We needed more moments of her telling off her flaky friends who were only nice to her when they were hanging out, and turned on a dime once she did something they believed to be unsavory. We needed moments where we saw her unhappiness with her boyfriend, or her disconnect at home. We needed a better portrait of her relationship with her mother, who she shares one of the strongest scenes of the film in, and her relationship with her town that she so desperately needs to escape. For a film that’s written to be about Sarah and her journey, she’s the least defined character, going through the motions rather than acting on impulses or motives that relate to her personality.
It’s a pretty film (Leite has quite an eye for natural beauty), and although still not reliably at east as a performer, Agron sold some of the tougher moments, but Bare is strictly conventional, so that even when the ending comes and manages to earn some of it’s build up with an emotionally satisfying payoff, it still never seems to take control of it’s narrative, letting the scenery dictate the movies most interesting moments, rather than the characters themselves.
Bare is out in select theaters and VOD now.