Best left unspoken
A typical locution in The Quiet begins like this. The sensitive teen jock Connor (Shawn Ashmore) finally gets the sullen teen orphan Dot (Camilla Belle) alone, and he says, “I can smell your hair. Smells like cucumbers. … I got really, really hard last night.” Now, in Connor’s defense, he, like everyone else in the movie, has been under the impression that Dot can neither hear him nor respond. Word around the cafeteria is that she’s a deaf-mute—and, it would seem, a sounding board for other people’s most licentious impulses.
That’s almost a good idea for a trashy thriller, or even for a sophisticated psychological drama, but as you may already be able to deduce from its dialogue, and as I can vouch from having witnessed its tortured performances, this movie is neither of those things. Nor, unfortunately, is it an intentional comedy. After a little more sputtered soul-baring, Connor closes with a lamenting summation: “What am I gonna do, this sex addict with a learning disorder who forgot how to play basketball?” Can you really blame Dot for not answering?
While we’re on the subject of clumsy exposition, here’s a plot summary: Dot has recently been taken in by a troubled family. Her adoptive sister and classmate Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) is a sourpuss cheerleader whose issues include a bad body image and a potentially homicidal, if well-founded, rage at her father (Martin Donovan). He’s a successful architect whose own home—brace yourself for the irony—seriously lacks livability. In fact, it’s downright gloomy in there, and not just for the apparent scarcity of light bulbs. Mom (Edie Falco) has gently lowered herself into a stupor of painkillers, and dad has turned to Nina for sexual gratification.
Of course, Dot gets an earful of all this. And she talks about it, too. Oh, don’t worry. I’m not spoiling anything to say so. See, she talks right to the audience from the beginning—presumably because no self-respecting melodrama of suburban dysfunction would be complete without a voiceover. Dot uses hers to say, for instance, “One day we wake up, and we realize the world sucks. And we suck for being in it.” Or to talk about Beethoven, whose music she plays on the family piano and with whom she professes an affinity: “I imagine his mind must have been the loudest silence in history.”
If it seems too snarky to suggest that history’s next-loudest silence may be that of the indifference this movie will induce in theater audiences, you must understand that the prospect of further discussing the details of its plot is simply too unbearable. I really think it might be better for everyone if I just fill up the remaining space with a bitchy attitude.
For starters, even a young film reviewer who grew up in suburban Connecticut, where this movie badly pretends to be set, knows a goth poseur when he sees one. The Quiet tries to cultivate a titillating air of pervy mystery but then chickens out and gets all archly confessional. If it makes you feel creepy, it’s only in that “maybe tell the therapist instead of telling me” kind of way. It was written by the team of Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft, two men who apparently share an interest in behaving like precocious adolescent lesbians not yet recovered from various childhood traumas. Did nobody at their Sundance Lab workshop have the guts to tell these guys that’s just not cool?
Instead, apparently, they said, “Boys, do we have the director for you.” Her name is Jamie Babbit, and her most notable credits include But I’m a Cheerleader; MTV’s Undressed; a few episodes of Gilmore Girls; and, due for release next year, the admittedly promisingly titled Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Babbit’s work here seems to consist of straining for lyricism; the camera solemnly tracks around through a thick haze of blue diffusion (I’m serious, people: light bulbs!), moving to the music of beloved indie mopeuse Cat Power—and, of course, Beethoven. And not since A Clockwork Orange has that composer’s glory been so shockingly debauched on the big screen! Oh, no, not really. If only. What to tell poor Babbit? Even Kubrick couldn’t hold an audience on a grim predilection for pretty girls, violence and a little bit of the old Ludwig Van.