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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Down and outed at boarding school

Lost and Delirious

Rating: * * * 1/2
Japanese title: Tsubasa o Kudasai
Director: Léa Pool
Running time: 100 minutes
Language: English
Now showing

Canadian director Léa Pool's "Lost and Delirious" seems to pick up where James Mangold's "Girl, Interrupted" left off. Like that film, this one has a group of young women in close quarters (a boarding school, almost the same thing as an asylum), painfully working through some personal traumas as they both bond and back-stab. Like Mangold, Pool also has a taste for pensive, intimate, late-night scenes, with crickets chirping and an acoustic guitar.

News photo
Jessica Paré, Piper Peroboe and Mischa Barton in "Lost and Delirious"

But most of all, "Lost and Delirious" shares with "Girl" a blond bombshell in the bad-girl lead. Where Mangold's film marked the rise of Angelina Jolie's career, "Lost and Delirious" looks to be the resurrection of Piper Peraboe's. "Coyote Ugly" was a painfully stupid film -- even by Jerry Bruckheimer standards -- and Piper seemed to deserve better: Hers was the one glimmer of talent lost in a void -- all the other actresses seemed to be chosen for their bust sizes.

Here, Peraboe sheds the Hollywood male-fantasy look she flaunted in "Coyote Ugly." Her body has been reworked and re-emphasized -- strong-shouldered, small-chested, wide-hipped -- and so is her demeanor -- aggressive, tomboyish, a bit butch even. It's an impressive transformation, but not surprising coming from an actress who cites Willem Dafoe as her career model.

Peraboe plays Pauline Oster, a schoolgirl with an attitude who sneaks cigarettes and spikes the punch at an exclusive all-girls boarding school where disinterested parents dump their offspring. As Pauline's best friend and roommate Victoria (Jessica Paré) tells their new roommate Mary (Mischa Barton), "It's like the Lost Boys in 'Peter Pan,' except we're the Lost Girls, lost and delirious."

Pauline's an adopted child who feels unloved, Victoria -- nicknamed Tory -- has a father complex and hates her mom, while Mary -- known as Mouse for her withdrawn, passive nature -- lost her mother to an illness three years earlier and knows that her stepmother was behind her move to boarding school.

The girls bond through their shared sense of abandonment, but Mouse soon begins to notice that Pauline and Tory have something even deeper going on. She catches them kissing on the roof, and then moaning under the sheets on moonlit nights. Mouse is surprised, but not shocked -- she likes her roommates, so she just accepts it, silently.

Pauline and Tory are none too careful in their dangerous liaisons, and they're soon outed by Tory's nasty little sister. As rumor spreads like wildfire, the lovers react quite differently: While Pauline is secure in her feelings and tough enough to not care what other people think, Tory freaks out, worrying what her conservative parents will think and denying her affection for Pauline.

Thus begins a messy little spat between dumper and dumpee, in which Mouse is caught in the middle. Tory takes a sudden and very public interest in boys, while Pauline gets just as public in trying to win her back. Tory's spin, however, is that Pauline is a freak who won't leave her alone. True, Pauline does lose it in an English literature class, but after getting the "I just want to be friends" kiss-off from Tory, Shakespeare becomes all too poignant. "Shall I abide this dull world, which in her absence, is no better than a stye?" This rhetorical question sends Pauline into a downward spiral.

Pool's direction is quite assured when moving through the specifics of the school and the girls' lives there, whether it's the cadence of teen-speak, the way they wear (or mis-wear) their uniforms, or the pecking order of cafeteria seating. She's on shakier ground when it comes to the symbolism, which probably worked better in print (the film is based on Susan Swan's novel "The Wives of Bath"), with Pauline caring for a wounded falcon and Mouse tending a garden, complete with wise old Native American gardener. Pool also has a tendency toward overly theatrical shots, particularly as the film becomes more melodramatic.

She gets fine performances out of her leads, though: Pare is perfect in her remoteness, the lover who chills overnight, while Barton is great at conveying a wounded innocence, finally revealing an inner toughness that's drawn out by Pauline's smoldering example. It's Peraboe, though, who keeps us transfixed, combining masculine recklessness and feminine self-doubt to create a memorable heroine.

For a film that wants us to confront the painful decisions and prejudices that gay teens face, it could have challenged the audience a bit more by not making its lesbian couple the most attractive girls in the school. It makes it a bit too easy for straight viewers to sympathize with the girls when they are so conventionally beautiful, although that may have been the point.

Judging from the way the film is being marketed here, though -- beautiful young things in school uniforms and a special mention of Peraboe's all-nude scene -- one starts to wonder whether Peraboe and Pare's love-making scene isn't a little too close to classic "Lipstick Lesbian" style for its own good. It's doubtful, though, the rorikon crowd will turn out: This chick flick is essentially emo-core, not soft-core.

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