It’s hard to write the intro to this Derick Martini movie because after watching it and thinking about it for three days I can’t begin to work out what the hell the film was trying to accomplish. It’s not especially strange, although it’s certainly off-beat, and it’s certainly not dumb. It just seems to be what happens when you get a bunch of really talented people together and forget to have anything to say for 98 minutes.
The plot (it doesn’t really have a story, as a story needs some kind of narrative element beyond “these things happened”) is pretty straightforward and maddeningly inevitable. Luli (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a 13-year-old living a tragic existence that, thanks to the film grade and musical choices, you know isn’t going to get much better. She leaves home because her mother (Juliette Lewis) abandons her, with the goal of making it to Las Vegas and showing off the amazing countryside along the way.
About 20 minutes into her journey she’s picked up by the sinister Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), who’s twice her age and creepy, and then 20 minutes after that she meets Glenda (Blake Lively) who’s the same age as Eddie and introduces Luli to the joys of free cocaine and petty crime. At all times, Luli is very much a 13-year-old girl who doesn’t realise the absolute danger she’s in whilst also coming up with lines well above her age. Everyone has great lines, including the smashed-up junkies, and everyone looks perfectly impoverished and trashy.
Needless to say, Luli doesn’t make it to Vegas and instead gets drawn into the seedy underbelly of vice within a rural setting. She, and thus we, are introduced to a variety of unpleasant characters through an assortment of unpleasant reasons, and the film paints giant signs that unpleasantness is around every corner. Anything nice that happens will inescapably turn nasty, and you spend the whole time going “yup, that’s age-inappropriate and tragic” because you aren’t an idiot and “oooh, that’s a nice shot” because everything is amazingly framed.
Most of the horrible things are implied or discussed, rather than directly shown, and that gives it an edge of classiness that mildly counters the rural misery porn aspects of it all. There are two major moments of unpleasantness, one physical and one sexual assault, but they are handled in surprisingly unexplicit ways without diminishing their harrowing nature. They are also incredibly foreshadowed, with the sexual assault hanging over the victim’s head for most of the film, which reduces the shock factor. These things are apparently inescapable, which manages to be exhausting rather than insightful.
When things reach the requisite level of atmospherically broken, there is a calamitous crescendo before Alec Baldwin turns up and sets up the conclusion as the Travel Agent Ex Machina. He plays his role very well, the whole cast does, but nothing feels either earned or especially going anywhere. There is no grand design, no deep message, or even a “shit happens” denouement to make you go “oooh, that’s deep.” It’s The End, because the film is now over.
The film does a lot of things right; it would be unfair to say otherwise. It’s just that without a narrative, or even an anti-narrative, it just does it’s thing of trying to fire-up your emotions whilst having no emotional impact. It’s very grim and intense, but without a story it’s a collection of obviously bad things. No amount of quality cast and production value can stop this being Trash, as it’s pretty but unrelentingly hollow (and not in a good way).