The career of Juno Temple continues to frustrate me. The tiny British actress, who turns 26 this week, is the daughter of the filmmaker Julien Temple, and she’s a fascinating screen presence because her demure china-doll features make such a contrast with her rebellious streak and her willingness to get down and dirty. You may remember me mentioning her flair for playing trashy American girls in my review of Horns. She has done similar work in the likes of Dirty Girl, Kaboom, and Killer Joe. However, she has shown her range in a passel of other stuff, from the recent Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd to the lesbian werewolf romance Jack & Diane. Sometimes she has given fantastic performances in obscure films, portraying a mentally disintegrating exchange student in Magic Magic and a boarding-school bully in the underappreciated Cracks. Sometimes she has appeared in prestigious high-profile projects like Atonement and The Dark Knight Rises. But then, just when you think she’s ready to take off, she appears in something terrible like The Three Musketeers or Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
Safelight, which opens at AMC Grapevine Mills this week, is yet another vehicle that she effortlessly carries even though it’s not worthy of her. She plays Vicki, a truck-stop prostitute in a small California desert town in the 1980s. She befriends Charles (Evan Peters), a boy who works at the truck stop, gets bullied because of his deformed leg, and likes to take photographs with the camera that his deceased older brother left behind. Charles feels compelled to act when he sees Vicki being slapped around by Skid (Kevin Alejandro), her drugged-out pimp.
It makes sense for writer-director Tony Aloupis to take things at a slow pace in this setting. However, there’s a difference between a slow pace and nothing happening, and this movie tips over into the latter. Skid is a one-dimensional villain, and the plot that brings Charles to a head with him is limply handled. And not much comes of his relationship with his ailing dad (Jason Beghe) or his boss (Christine Lahti), who’s also a companion of sorts to his dad.
No, it’s Temple that you watch, whether Vicki is coolly pulling a gun on some schoolkids who look poised to give Charles a beating, or whether she breaks down after Charles disastrously tries to reunite her with her mom (Ever Carradine), who kicked her out of the house. Mark Harris recently wrote an assessment of Jake Gyllenhaal on Grantland in which he noted that while male actors tend to be given latitude to find themselves in their 20s, young actresses don’t find the same forgiveness when they stumble. I hope Temple finds a way to stick around until such time as she figures out where she fits in best and what she’s best at. When that happens, she is gonna lay waste.
Starring Evan Peters and Juno Temple. Written and directed by Tony Aloupis. Rated R.[/box_info]