London Film Festival: Kelly & Cal

Directed by Jen McGowan
Starring Juliette Lewis, Jonny Weston, Josh Hopkins and Cybill Shepherd

by Joanna Orland

Kelly & Cal is a lovely film about coping with change & then some.  Juliette Lewis is brilliant as Kelly in a rare lead performance from the woman whose full time job is as frontwoman for band Juliette and the Licks.  Kelly is a new mother, struggling with postnatal depression as her husband barely engages in their marriage.  Struggling to deal with this change in life, Kelly befriends high school student Cal (Jonny Weston) who himself is struggling to cope with a life-changing accident that has left him wheelchair bound.  This friendship borders on inappropriate, sometimes uncomfortable, but also beautiful as they use each other to cope with their overwhelming new stances in life to give each other hope and the power to accept their fates.

The role of Kelly feels tailored to Juliette and vice versa.  A former Riot Grrrl turned mother who longs for her days in a band with a penchant for bass-playing and blue hair dye.  Full of nostalgia, her connection with the teenage Cal reignites this lost youth of Kelly’s fond memories.  Spending time with Cal allows her to forget her troubles of not bonding with her new son, drifting away from her husband, her isolation in suburbia and her fear of losing her identity.  Cal is a romantic at heart, in the guise of a brash and angry teenager.  He confides in Kelly about the girlfriend who left him behind after his accident, and eventually begins to feel romantically towards her.  He puts her on a pedestal, listening to recordings of her ex-band Wet-Nap and their hit Moist Towelette (composed and sung by Lewis herself), he spies on her when she’s in her home, he takes her out on what are essentially dates, and all the while Kelly is toying with this flirtation rather than rejecting it.  Eventually, this relationship reaches boiling point.

Kelly & Cal is a serious story told with the perfect balance of drama and comedy.  The serious dramatic content is nuanced with a brilliantly subtle comedic performance from Lewis in particular.  The most memorable moment being a scene where Kelly pleasures herself to a photo of George Clooney, who gave director Jen McGowan permission to use his likeness in such a fashion after McGowan coerced Lewis to ask him for his blessing after he produced the actress’ last film August: Osage County.

The drama, comedy and performances come together to make Kelly & Cal a beautiful story filled with authenticity.


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