Dir: Bradley Rust Grey. US. 2009. 79mins.


The heroine barely fizzes, let alone combusts in The Exploding Girl, but that’s the point of Bradley Rust Grey’s gentle character study about a young New York woman’s summer of contained emotional turmoil. Shot in the new Red digital format, this minor-key drama isUSindie cinema at its most introspective, and while accomplished in its own terms, is hardly distinctive enough to command much exposure outside festivals. Still, hipster appeal and up-and-coming charismatic young lead Zoe Kazan should ensure it a degree of DVD and online life.

The follow-up to Grey’s 2003 Icelandic-set road story Salt, The Exploding Girl focuses on Ivy (Kazan), a student who comes home for the summer to New York to stay with her dance teacher mother. Ivy is careworn and distracted, preoccupied with her medical condition - she has a history of epilepsy - and with the state of her relationship with boyfriend Greg (Pipp, unseen, heard only in telephone voice-off).

Little of moment happens over the season: Ivy teaches a children’s dance class, attends the occasional party with her mild-mannered platonic friend Al (Rendall), and listens to his shy confessions about his non-starter love life. The only events to disturb Ivy’s apparent composure are a series of ominously taciturn phone conversations with the absent Greg.

If not a strict example of the genre, The Exploding Girl is a very close relation to the so-called ‘mumblecore’ school, exemplified by the films of US director Andrew Bujalski, which quietly probe the emotional states of young, introspective, bohemian types. But in The Exploding Girl, Grey arguably needs to bring more to the table to persuade us that Ivy and Al merit our interest in the first place. Al is set up as potential boyfriend material, and while he’s clearly simpatico and intelligent - he shows an educated interest in evolutionary theory, baby pigeons and the life of inventor Nikola Tesla - it’s hard not to wish that Ivy, and the film, would show an interest in someone with a bit more spark.

The film stands on the presence of Zoe Kazan, immensely expressive and watchable even when not doing or saying very much. The actress, granddaughter of director Elia, made a strong impression in Revolutionary Road as Leonardo DiCaprio’s seduced secretary, and in The Exploding Girl, Kazan’s cartoonish, Betty Boop-like features subtly hint at emotions never expressed; she’s also extremely good at handling the long silences and inconclusive phone calls on which the film is built. It’s typical of the film’s defiantly toned-down attitude that when Ivy does have her epileptic fit, she’s barely in shot, but what we do see suggests that Kazan carries it off very well.

The background of a New York summer is sketched in economically, Eric Lin’s DV shooting vividly capturing the mood as Ivy wiles away time on the streets. A soundtrack of drifty indie music absolutely defines the film’s placid, inexplosive tenor.

Production company

International sales
Memento Films International
(33) 1 53 34 90 20

Kim So-yong
Karin Chien
Ben Howe
Bradley Rust Grey

Bradley Rust Grey

Eric Lin

Kim So-yong
Bradley Rust Grey


Main cast
Zoe Kazan
Mark Rendall
Maryann Urbano
Franklin Pipp