Karen Moncrieff

Karen Moncrieff

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The Dead Girl Review


Good
With her debut feature Blue Car, Karen Moncrieff zeroed in on a troubled adolescent girl and a relationship with her favorite teacher; the film had the focus of a short story (a mixed blessing for a feature film). In The Dead Girl, her scope widens but that sharpness remains. The girl of the title is found in a field, and Moncrieff spends time with four women affected by her death: Arden (Toni Collette), who finds the body; the morgue attendant/student (Rose Byrne) who receives it next; Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt), the wife of a man who may know more about the death than he lets on; and a mother (Marcia Gay Harden) in town to identify a body.

Following these sideline characters, the screenplay circles the girl herself, a prostitute played by Brittany Murphy in a final, haunting segment. This structure eschews typical ensemble payoffs -- only a few of the characters intersect and they sure as hell don't learn valuable lessons from each other -- for its own subtle rewards. These narrative threads, never running over 20 minutes, are as close to short fiction as Blue Car, but the new film also has the unity of a fine, slim story collection.

Continue reading: The Dead Girl Review

Blue Car Review


Weak
Blue Car is tough, honest, and deeply felt, and all of that made me wish I liked it more. The debut film from writer-director Karen Moncrieff is a coming-of-age drama about Meg (Agnes Bruckner), a young poet with a miserable family life (suggested alternate title: Real White Girls Have Poems). Her mother (Margaret Colin) is overworked and cranky, her father left years ago and maintains his distanc,; and her sister Lily (Regan Arnold) mutilates herself in between hunger strikes. She finds solace in the extra attention given to her by Mr. Auster (David Strathairn), an English teacher who recognizes her skills--as well as her lower-middle-class beauty, of course.

In exploring this relationship, and virtually all of the relationships in the film, Moncrieff and her actors don't shy away from awkward, uncomfortable truths. Strathairn does especially well with this material; although there are only a few scenes of him teaching in front of the whole class, he captures the reserved vibe of a talented, unflashy high school English teacher as instantly as a snapshot. The audience's perception of the Auster character is most open to change over the film's 90 minutes, and Strathairn is a rock of believability, refusing to bother with cheap signifiers when Auster's actions become morally ambiguous (it may help if you find, as I do, almost any cast member from Sneakers infinitely watchable by association). Newcomer Agnes Brucker is equally reluctant to indulge in theatrics; armed with Bruckner's unfussy expressiveness, Meg's every decision is understandable.

Continue reading: Blue Car Review

Karen Moncrieff

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