A film that does its best to make the horrendous palatable, and the unthinkable titillating, The Quiet can be either (depending on your taste) a wrenching experience, or merely worth a giggle. It is, after all, a film about a deaf-mute teenaged girl named Dot (Camilla Belle), sent to live with her weird godparents and their popular cheerleader Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) after her father dies -- so really one can only take it so seriously. Clichés are the order of the day, with bitchy cheerleaders ruling the high school cafeteria and deep, nasty secrets discovered by people who just happen to be walking down darkened hallways in the depths of night. And if one has to ask whether this seemingly placid suburban environment is about to be torn asunder by scandal, one really hasn't watched enough television.
Director Jamie Babbit hardly showed much promise with her debut film, the stiff, one-note 1999 comedy But I'm a Cheerleader, but one would have thought that the intervening years spent directing episodes of such sharp TV comedies as Malcolm in the Middle and Gilmore Girls would have honed her talent somewhat. No such luck. The Quiet is so tone-deaf that when it should be eliciting sympathy or empathy, it comes off as simply amateur comedy -- Pretty Persuasion without the guts. She's put together a good enough cast here, with Edie Falco and Martin Donovan playing Nina's parents (the former a prescription-medication-zonked stereotype and the latter a creepy and controlling menace), though they're mostly marooned amidst the cartoonish plot of adolescent brooding and familial dysfunction. As Dot, Belle is stuck with providing her dialogue via maudlin voiceover ("I am invisible") while Cuthbert has to do what she can with a script that sends her character ping-ponging between damaged, vulnerable victim and Heathers-esque school-dominating bitch.
And what to make of this script by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft? Undoubtedly they believed they were crafting a dark little drama about suburbia's seamy underbelly, with a symbolism-laden deaf-mute protagonist to act as a bid for arthouse cred. Instead they've put together a crude mash-up of teenage cruelty -- Nina tries so hard to make life hell for her new sister that you can almost see the sweat beads on her brow -- and stock representations of parental hypocrisy, with a persistent undertone of sexual perversity that veers more than once into leering exploitation. Nina's best friend, the ultra-slutty Michelle (Katy Mixon), has a porn fixation, while the object of her X-rated lunchtime conversation, the star basketball player, Connor (Shawn Ashmore), appears sexually attracted to Dot simply because of her passivity.
Although the balance of The Quiet pivots around the revelation of two shock twists, they're both so predictable that even Desperate Housewives wouldn't stoop to using them. Director Babbit's handling of the fallout from these twists, which should have been heavily emotional material, careens instead quite quickly into high camp of a sort that's quite impossible to enjoy without a stiff drink -- or three.
The DVD includes a few making-of featurettes.