Directed by Jamie Babbitt
The Quiet is a creepy little drama about incest and murder that is a wee bit too overwrought for its own good.
The Deer Family
The Quiet tells a couple stories.
One is about a teenage girl named Dot (Camilla Belle, When a Stranger Calls) who is adopted by a caring, clean-cut Connecticut family following the untimely death of her father. The adoptive family, the Deers, seems to be perfect in just about every single way.
The other story is about the natural-born daughter in that family, Nina (Elisha Cuthbert, The Girl Next Door). To get to know the daughter better is to understand that not all is well in the Deer family, particularly when it comes to a thoroughly inappropriate father/daughter relationship.
As for Dot, she feels invisible in groups; she feels like half a person when around one other; she feels like a third of a person when around two others; when in a crowd, she feels like nobody at all. Dot's has not been an easy life and her insecurity goes beyond typical teenage angst.
Dot's mother died when she was 7; after that, Dot lost her hearing and stopped speaking. Compounding her difficult childhood, her father died when crossing a street to go to the bank; nobody stopped him from walking in front of an oncoming truck and nobody helped following the accident.
On the other hand, Nina was born into a family with a lovely mom, Olivia (Edie Falco, The Great New Wonderful), and a handsome father, Paul (Martin Donovan, Insomnia). Together they live in the perfect Connecticut house. (Well, at least it will be when Mom is done remodeling the place.)
Behind Closed Doors
Between the stories of Dot and Nina, The Quiet essentially becomes an allegory about how people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.
Of course, nothing is ever what it seems and the Deer family is no exception.
In the privacy of the not-entirely-friendly confines of their house, it becomes clear the family has more than its share of dysfunctional attributes. Chief among them is the lack of tact in dinner conversations. It's a potty-mouthed family and, as it turns out, Mom's a control freak suffering from chronic pain after hip surgery and a root canal.
And Dad loves his daughter far too much, to say the least.
The tension ratchets up as Nina gets goaded on by her equally bitchy friend, Michelle (Katy Mixon, Zombie Prom). Michelle is promiscuous and questions why Nina, at 17, is holding back on her carnal treasure.
The sexual angst crosses over to Dot, who becomes the object of desire for the school stud, Connor (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men: The Last Stand).
As the stories mix together and secrets start to spill out and reveal themselves, Nina takes drastic measures to escape her father's clutches and plots his murder. Naturally, she'd like to turn Dot into an accomplice.
The cast is what makes The Quiet as effective as it is. Cuthbert and Belle are young and rising stars that provide strong performances while the more seasoned Falco and Donovan are effective as their unraveling parents.
For the most part, the story is too tightly wound for its own good, with each and every character seething with angst, anger, and one malady or another (even Connor, the stud, is not spared; he has attention deficit disorder).
However, The Quiet does do a good job of developing Dot's character and revealing her tragic background. Like Beethoven, Dot doesn't let being deaf get in the way of her piano playing and the story nicely integrates a subplot that weaves in comparisons to Beethoven's own difficult life. The master was, after all, deaf even as he composed some of his greatest works.
That's where the movie finds its heart, in fairly eloquently telling Dot's story. While Nina's story is tragic in its own right, the character of Dot is the only one that generates much in the way of sympathy.
What The Quiet really wants to be, deep down, is more along the lines of American Beauty rather than Immortal Beloved.
In those ambitions, director Jamie Babbit (whose background is primarily in TV, including work on Alias and Gilmore Girls) succeeds some of the time, but not all the time.
One of the more effective scenes involves Nina as she irons her cheerleading outfit in front of Dad. It's a steamy scene in more ways than one and it captures some of the same tense, disjointed, and misplaced fantasy of American Beauty, albeit this time in a more serious than satirical fashion.
Unfortunately, the movie falls apart in its final 15 minutes, cheating its way out of making a real statement in favor of a far too trite and tidy conclusion.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.