A lilac-tinted haze seems to hang over Clementine, Lara Jean Gallagher’s feature film debut which follows a recently heartbroken woman swept up into a tangled relationship with a teenage girl. Backed by the Venice Biennale College-Cinema and the Sundance Institute and nominated for Best Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival 2019, Clementine is part breakup movie, part coming-of-age, and part lesbian romance, with a touch of the psychosexual thriller in the vein of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.
Having been brutally dumped, reticent artist Karen (Otmara Marrero) leaves Los Angeles and breaks into her ex-girlfriend’s stunning modernist lake house in the Pacific Northwest. While uprooting into the (comparative) wild might suggest a desire for healing through escape, Karen has, of course, actually come to luxuriate in her own grief. Enclosed by forest and the stylish wood panelled interior walls punctuated by her ex’s abstract paintings (think a cosier version of the Park family home in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite), she’s in a daze of despair.
Lana (Sydney Sweeney) soon disrupts Karen’s self-imposed isolation. A willowy blonde claiming to be nineteen, she’s determined both to make it to Hollywood and to insert herself into Karen’s life. The pair soon fall into an uneasily flirtatious friendship, with Karen facilitating Lana’s initially rather inexplicable infatuation, but who may in fact be subject to manipulation herself.
While the plot itself is slender, Gallagher does underpin it with a compelling exploration of power imbalances in romantic relationships between women. Karen describes her much older former lover, D (Sonya Walger, in an all too fleeting appearance) as a domineering figure who wielded her status as an older and highly respected artist. After being unceremoniously rejected, Karen is searching for her sense of self post-breakup and seems to enjoy the opportunity to finally shed her submissiveness and dominate a much younger woman herself. “You’re so young,” she tells Lana, fondly, and it’s unclear whether or not her youth is an attraction.
Lana herself has nothing very interesting to say, delivering every line of dialogue in the same flat tone, perhaps highlighting that Karen’s attention is rooted mainly in the elicit desire to dominate. Gallagher consciously avoids the romanticisation of relationships between teenagers and adults that frustratingly reoccurs in LGBTQ+ films; their dynamic is not painted as sexy or aspirational. Yet the pair lack chemistry and the script is so wispy and devoid of drama that there’s nothing to grip on to or begin to unravel.
Undermined by characters that lack definition and aimless scenes that seem to drift past the screen as if captured by accident, Clementine has one foot grounded in the complicated pain of an identity-defining breakup, but the other floating in a shapeless, unfocussed netherworld.
Clementine is available to watch on VOD from May 8.