Ah, the coming-of-age story. The genre can lend itself to very honest, humorous and heartwarming storytelling. Remember Angela Chase? Remember how her brain was constantly spewing reflections of angst-filled confusion and over analytical wonderment? And, remember how familiar and real it felt? Remember Juno MacGuff? Recall how she was way too smart and funny and comfortable in her own skin than any 16-year-old has a right to be? My So-Called Life and Juno nail the female-oriented coming-of-age story, and while As Cool As I Am borrows elements from both, it sorely misses the mark in every way.
Here are some of things we know about 16-year-old Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger, Once Upon a Time): She wears baggy clothes, seemingly as an effort to cloak her natural beauty. She wants to become a chef and is obsessed with Mario Batali. Her father Chuck (James Marsden) is a lumberjack, a profession that keeps him away from home most of the time, and her mother Lainee (Claire Danes) takes a job as a telemarketer, which she must keep a secret from her husband, alongside the much bigger secret that she is sleeping with someone from work. In the meantime, Lucy is embarking on her first sexual experiences with her childhood best friend, Kenny.
As Cool As I Am can tick the “loss of innocence” box, and only because Thomas Mann (Beautiful Creatures, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) plays Kenny with that endearing Michael Cera-esque brand of quirkiness, sweetness and humor. He’s gold. Other than that the actors have either too little or too much to work with. The character development is fickle and stale, the dialogue is not engaging and the humor feels forced. The presence of both James Marsden and Jeremy Sisto is wasted, as they are not able to convey anything real or interesting, while the presence of Claire Danes leads one to believe this role may have been hiatus filler.
The entire film is built around this notion that Lucy’s family life is unstable and that she feels more mature and responsible than her mother. She credits this instability as a component of her unique character, but is also resentful of it. But, right off the bat that framework feels faulty. We’re supposed to believe her life is so filled with tumult because her dad is a lumberjack and her mom wants to have a job…as a telemarketer. She’s not stripping or waiting tables at a shady bar. She wears a pencil skirt and sits at a desk. Her mother’s affair is definitely a splinter in the works, but her parents’ steady employment is not.
In the end, As Cool As I Am tries too hard and has too much going on. If the film focused on Lucy’s budding sexuality and her relationship with Kenny, it might have produced a more worthwhile and cohesive story truly about a girl coming of age.