‘Chlorine’ Review: Shallow Indie Tropes Lost in the Deep End of the Pool

By  · Published on March 1st, 2014

The recent popularity of independent films in popular cinema has led to an unbearable reliance on certain indie “tropes,” in which the same characters, themes, and especially music genres, seem to be used again and again. While viewers once may have sought out indie films precisely because they avoid the cliches and common themes of mainstream films, the indie genre itself has become so pervasive that it now has its own hackneyed patterns. This reliance can be evidenced in Jay Alaimo’s Chlorine.

Vincent D’Onofrio and Kyra Sedgwick star as a New England husband and wife who are struggling to define themselves and fit in with their upper-class friends and neighbors. Desperation and the desire to provide for their two children who they are slowly losing pushes the couple into a bad real estate deal, intermingling them with a supporting cast of shady characters.

Chlorine opens with teenaged Cynthia at a swim meet getting her period for the first time, an introduction that practically screams, “this is a coming-of-age story.” The life guard sees blood and panics. The transparency here adequately represents the rest of the film. Carried by stereotypical characters and driven by overt stylization, Chlorine is like an indie caricature that doesn’t realize it’s just a wonky drawing.

Primary colors abound in Chlorine, where the constantly bright wardrobe choices seem desperately mimicking of classic “indie darlings” like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. The quirky, surfy music doesn’t hurt that image, until the obvious sad music comes in at just the right times, making sure the viewer knows that the plot is thickening. These tricks are flat-out distracting from the storyline. (Red jeans, again? What is with this music?)

There is a serious range of acting talent present in Chlorine, ranging from vets D’Onofrio and Sedgwick, who manage to wrangle some life into their lines, to lesser-known youngsters Flora Cross and Ryan Donowho, who suffer with their tragic dialogue. The pros add some credibility to their scenes, particularly those that have the entire family together, such as the moment at the dinner table when D’Onofrio tries to express his thoughts on Cynthia’s womanhood.

Donowho’s character is first introduced at the dinner table, quietly reflecting and wearing a turtleneck, I assume, imagining that he is Paul Dano. He doesn’t speak with the exception of explaining the origin of frozen TV dinners to his mother, because he is so quiet and insightful. Is this a new stock character? The quiet, eldest son who only speaks to impart wisdom through facts and metaphor?

My heart goes out to Cross, who is given some of the worse dialogue in the film. A scene with Cynthia and Henry stands out where she says, out of the blue, “I miss the butterflies,” only to be followed up by additionally cringe-worthy scientific explanation from Donowho, whose firefly science surely symbolizes something much bigger, and more complex.

Yet another overly used character concept that seems to have been recently celebrated can be found in the film: that of the plain-Jane high school girl’s blonde, popular, and sexualized best friend. The origins of this friendship are never explained, and she exists almost purely to prod at the homely girl, to whose morality she foils. Why this hot bestie would ever associate with a non-popular, we do not know. The same character can be found in Juno and in Easy A.

One of the few characters in Chlorine that feels moderately authentic is Patrick, a sleazy tennis instructor looking to make money fast and get into the pants of his students. Rhys Coiro (who re-occurred for years as Billy Walsh on Entourage) brings some much-needed charisma to Chlorine’s supporting cast. His brief screen-time doesn’t do much to redeem the film, though his scenes are clearly some of the most entertaining.

Ultimately, Chlorine doesn’t really have much to say. It attempts to look at the lives of individuals of different ages, making it not just a “coming-of-age” story for Cynthia, but also for her parents and the people in their lives. However, the film’s energy is simply stretched too thin, and no one character seems to have grown much by the ending. Few of its characters are interesting, while the majority rely on already-recognized personalities just to get by.

The Upside: Coiro does excellent character work, as usual, adding occasional humor

The Downside: Frustratingly bad dialogue, particularly for the film’s younger characters

On the Side: Tom Sizemore is in this movie for about 10 minutes