We’re introduced to Erica, our seventeen-year-old protagonist in this film, as she straightens up into frame after having just performed oral sex on a police officer that she is also secretly filming in order to blackmail. So, look, if you hang around for this movie, you are without excuse; it told you what it was right out of the gate. This movie is not for the faint of heart, not because it’s gritty and grim, but because it deals with some really dark themes in a way that is honest, but also often quite hilarious and delightful. In some ways this is, however, more disturbing than a gritty treatment might be. The main plot revolves around a new quasi-step brother Erica gets when he’s released from treatment in a rehab facility. He’s the teenaged son of her mother’s live-in boyfriend. The two initially clash, but when she discovers that he was molested as a young child and that the perpetrator got off with only a slap on the wrist, well, she sets out to bring her own twisted kind of justice to the perp, to use her diabolical skills of deception to get revenge on behalf of her disturbed step-brother. Yes, this is a comedy. The film is really very good, particularly in its first two-thirds. The script is in many ways the story of Erica’s journey from a kind of light-hearted amorality to a feeling of real affection, even ultimately love, for her new step-brother. Zoey Deutch, the main reason to see this movie, is absolutely star-making in the role. She plays the role to the hilt and gets some astonishingly big laughs out of her mugging; this is a very broad comedic performance, but as the film progresses, the performance becomes more subtle as Erica begins to feel some more complex emotions than she’s maybe ever felt before: compassion, uncertainty, empathy. Deutch is honestly Oscar worthy, not that a movie this indie and this offensive was going to get any attention by any prestigious awards. The supporting cast is populated with a batch of really great character actors. Joey Morgan is really wonderful as the step-brother; he has a real pain and awkwardness to his performance that captures the emotional torment he’s dealt with or, rather, failed to deal with. His performance is both heart-wrenching and hilarious and the relationship that develops between Morgan and Deutch really is the heart of the film. Kathryn Hahn is a wonder as Erica’s disheveled mother and Tim Heidecker steals every scene he’s in as Erica’s awkwardly lame step-father. Heidecker is really wonderful; he underplays everything, but gets big laughs anyway – there’s a scene in a hospital waiting room where his matter-of-fact delivery had me in stitches. Most surprising of the performances is the always fun Adam Scott as the pedophile that Erica aims to destroy; it’s a strange, uncharacteristic role for Scott, but he brings an uncomfortable air of comedy to the role – he’s a total loser and watching his increasing befuddlement as Erica inserts herself into his life is often very funny. Of course all of these comments are predicated on the notion that you, as an audience member, are willing to watch a comedy about child molestation. On the whole, I was; there are moments when you do cringe at a few lines here and there, but for the most part the film walked a surprisingly sophisticated line of offensive comedy that still didn’t feel exploitative or mean-spirited. At the end of the day, you felt that, even as these characters were themselves funny and the situations were absurd, the movie took their struggles and pains seriously. The film does, in my opinion, go off the rails about fifteen minutes before the end, just because of some story decisions that are both unexpected and not really successful. I do have to applaud the film for daring to go in a way I wasn’t expecting and just really doing something ninety-nine out of a hundred movies wouldn’t have even considered doing and it’s not a bold thing because it’s offensive, but because it is serious and sweet at the same time, in sharp contrast to a lot of what’s come before. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s really entertaining, again, if you’re willing to buy into it. Deutch in particular is phenomenal and I was willing to overlook some of the missteps because of the good things, which are very good indeed. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – this film runs out of steam near the end, but the lead performance by Zoey Deutch is genuinely star-making; nicely balances character development and offensive humor. 3 ½ stars