As troubled as I was (and still am)8/10
As Cool as I Am isn't really a gripping film, and will likely be far away from my favorites of the year, but in terms of trying to revitalize the coming-of-age drama with a delightfully contemporary idea and script is succeeds solely on that merit. It concerns Lucy (Sarah Bolger), a well-mannered fourteen year old who has a lumberjack father Chuck (James Marsden) who is away for long periods of time due to work and her mother Lainee (Claire Danes), who might as well be her age thanks to her attitude and approach to reality. Lucy always had the idea that her family was "stable" in that they functioned like a normal family. However, as she gets older, she realizes her family is a "real" one, with problems and conflicts that are usually not instantly noticed by kids. This whole idea of "stable" and "real" families is discussed in the opening monologue, pretty much admitting the film will not be a narrow look at this common issue that is quickly growing.
That issue is having a child at a young age. Chuck and Lainee had Lucy when they were both seventeen, making them not much older than her in retrospect, leaving most of their decisions to be rather impulsive and quite questionable. For such a contemporary issue - having children and kids young and, often, out of wedlock - this one is scarcely brought up and thrown into public eye. Director Max Mayer, of the 2009 sleeper-hit Adam, brings a mature and focused look to the subject by allowing each character some expression and a moment when their personality comes out.
Lucy is already becoming a young woman, and with an unstable family life and an absent father, this leads her on a path she wouldn't normally take. She becomes more flirtatious, acts differently around her guy friends, and on several occasions almost consents to sex. This plot alone wages the question "are teens more likely to become rebellious if they do not have both parents playing a significant role in their life?" When her father returns home, and realizes that Lucy has, for one, driven the car unsupervised after her mother arrives at an interview, and has gone on to kiss several different boys, he becomes mad and very violent out of nowhere. That's his moment to shine; would his anger be so prominent and consuming if he had been home consistently? The only other main character is the mother, whose reckless behavior is almost as bad as her husband's absence. She becomes flirtatious at the office, even so far as to have sex with a co-worker not long after beginning to work there. After finding this out, Lucy can use this as bait to justify her actions rather than be awkwardly silent when he mother ridicules her for her behavior. The character's actions are one big, tangled cycle that only fuel and unintentionally elaborate on each others decisions.
As Cool as I Am asks a lot of questions and, in the end, quietly leaves the audience with deteriorating optimism that maybe Lucy will end up unsatisfied later in life, and at only fourteen, this idea likely hasn't crossed her mind. Writer Virginia Korus Spragg does a smooth job at developing the characters on the surface and subtly evoking commentary on the new generation of kids, many of whom likely to be raised by a more uncertain, rushed generation of people. I see another cycle coming along.
Starring: Claire Danes, James Marsden, and Sarah Bolger, and Jon Tenney. Directed by: Max Mayer.