First things first. This is not a teen movie. It takes place in the setting of teen life, but as with all art it is ultimately about humanity.
Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez) is a kid from the barrios of East LA who gets bussed two hours away to Pacific Heights High School because his grades are good. He’s a hard-working self-made young man whose family is poor but ceaselessly unified and supportive. Carlos’s dream is to become a naval pilot. On the way to his dreams he comes across Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst), a rich Senator’s daughter who is more worried about getting high than getting high grades. There is a spark, however and the two quickly fall in love.
[SPOLERS to follow]
At first, the viewer finds themselves cringing at the recklessness Nicole uses around Carlos. It is as though he is your own son while you watch the film and you want him to get as far away from this girl as possible. But he doesn’t, even upon the urging of Nicole’s own father, he risks his future to love her. Like any well-written work of art there is room left on both sides of the issue. For example, while Nicole seems to be throwing away the many blessings she’s been given, Carlos seems to gain some much needed freedom from his own Earth-sized burdens by spending time with her. The two are molded by each other postively. Their relationship is the antithesis of the one we find in the film Leaving Las Vegas. One man, who's lost his family palns to drink himself to death and in the process meets a prostitute and the two develop a relationship. The entire premise of the relationship is that real love doesn't ask someone to change. And so, over the course of the film we see them devolving to the depths that those lifestyles will lead to, but niether believes it is their right to ask them to change. The consummation of their relationship (the only time they actually have sex) is on his death bed. Their union is complete, a dying drunk making love to a beaten and broken prostitute. Leaving Las Vegas might be right about not asking someone you love to change, but their is another aspect to it. The one receiving the love is moved to change for the one who loves them. Not because they've asked, but because, in the words of Jack Nicholson's character in "As Good As It Gets" "You make me want to be a better man. In the end of Crazy/Beautiful it is Carlos’s choice to love Nicole rather than listen to conventional wisdom that brings her to a repentant state.
This brings up some interesting questions for all of us as the word “Boundaries” is becoming as common on the shelves of the Bible bookstore as it is on Oprah. Where do we draw the line for ourselves? At what point do we say, “I want to love this person, but they will only hurt me, so I need to watch out for myself.” Nicole’s step-mother feels that way about her own daughter, Nicole’s half-sister. Despite the step-mother's best intentions, she is concerned about the kind of home her own daughter will grow up in, with a drug-using, promiscuous sister. When do we cut our losses on someone and walk away for our own good or for the good of our family? Do we talk to and give money to a bum on the street with our wife and kids present? Do we move into traditionally crime-ridden neighborhoods to make them our mission field when our families could be risked? How much do we risk to love? And is it our right to risk others in our care to love? There probably are no definitive answers, and certainly Crazy/Beautiful doesn’t pretend to have one. But it does remind us that second chances can make life changes. That sometimes what is “smart” isn’t always what is “loving.”
The supporting cast is very strong here, and there is a realism and grit to every performance that implies the director may have allowed for some improvisational work and several takes. A film attacking such familiar territory (IE Love across class lines) could've easily slipped into cliche. But this film did not. Kirsten Dunst shines brightly here and I'm anxious to see Jay Hernandez in more films.