We’re introduced to Karen (Otmara Marrero) in bed as her older girlfriend D. (Sonya Walger) wakes her. While the former wants to sleep in, the latter seeks inspiration for a new canvas and wants her prized possession to be a willing participant towards that need. This is why D. tells her lover that her youth scares her by ruminating aloud about how Karen will inevitably break her heart. Rather than say it out of belief, however, she speaks those words to sink her claws in deeper. She’s deflecting from the fact that she’ll eventually break Karen’s instead, letting her feel secure by projecting an image of power that doesn’t exist. It’s therefore no surprise to learn that when Karen mourns their sudden break-up, D. has already moved on.
Writer/director Lara Gallagher pulls back the camera to show the scene was but a memory immortalized on video. Evidence of good times shattered to pieces without warning. And Karen isn’t sure how to cope. This was real love for her—a relationship meant to last. Having it ripped away left so many loose ends, the least of which is the couple’s dog currently caught behind the changed locks of D.’s home. Unsure of what to do or where to go as the prospect of gaining closure seems a distant fantasy, Karen hops in her car and drives to a place that became off-limits even before their break-up. With the spare key moved and frustration rising, she throws a rock through a window and breaks into D.’s lakeside getaway.
This is how we arrive at the setting of Clementine: the sound of shattering glass. First comes the need to hear D.’s voice via a phone recording. Second is the need to remove the painted canvases that remind her too much of what’s been lost. Part of her life was spent here and now she’s a trespassing stranger seeking to wrest back a modicum of control after what occurred. Karen refuses to be shutout or shutdown again. She refuses to let D.’s decision to end things stand without a conversation or reciprocal act of destruction. Rather than threaten to burn the house down (for real, since she does threaten it in rage-fueled jest), however, she’s decided to destroy D.’s ability to dictate boundaries without a confrontation.
Something happens as she waits to be found out and thus forces a face-to-face meeting. Karen finds another stranger making herself home on the dock. The age gap between Lana (Sydney Sweeney) and her is probably as wide as that between her and D. despite what the teen says, but any gap at all suffices for Gallagher’s aim to create a mirror for authority, lust, manipulation, and desire. The girl says she’s staying on the other side of the lake with a boy promising to take her south to Los Angeles (where Karen lives) in order to become an actress. There’s every reason to doubt her story, but things always seem to check out whenever something arises to test its veracity. Lana’s a dreamer, her optimism infinite.
An acquaintance is sparked that blossoms into friendship. Karen speaks with vagueness and pretension to project ownership upon the house while Lana acts with a mix of maturity and childlike enthusiasm. Both are putting on an act to stake their place and remain interesting enough to be wanted. We eventually discover this courtship (for lack of a better term) follows very closely to that of Karen and D. with the older woman seducing via power and the younger woman absorbing the attention like a sponge. The question then is whether the results will be the same. Will Karen realize the parallel and stop? Will Lana be interested in pursuing the sexual tension between them? Who will be the heartbreaker and whom the owner of said heart?
Not to stop there, Gallagher also injects a few points of uncertainty with a handyman fixing things around the place (Will Brittain’s Beau) and the constant ringing of the phone as D. asserts her control over what’s happening from afar. Both women begin to foster an allure for the other either as a sexual partner or platonic champion in a world with far too few as the tone of the whole shifts to that of suspense with the looming knowledge of an easily accessible handgun. While the possibility of abuse rears its head to ratchet things up to eleven, however, Clementine never relinquishes its quiet drama to such revelations. Despite everything going on, the focus remains on Karen, Lana, and their futures away from their respective manipulators.
Is that a future together? We’ll soon find an answer, but know that the film doesn’t take this duo’s own manipulations for granted. Just because others are victimizing them doesn’t mean they aren’t also victimizing each other. We must therefore question motivations and naiveté as we also accept the complexity of consent. We must look at a story told by Karen that was probably once a happy memory before hindsight exposed its underlying deception. Pay attention to her words where it concerns adulthood also—that it has nothing to do with age, but the realization that you can both know what it is you want and know you cannot have it. Forcing yourself to endure the pain of that cruel duality is what it means to grow up.
That thought holds true for past and present once walls fall and curtains follow. Marrero delivers a wonderful performance culminating in a final twenty minutes that open her character’s eyes wide enough to acknowledge how much of D. has rubbed off on her. It’s a journey filled with jealousy, anger, and greed—all the things D. utilized in the place of love. That Lana knows she’s become her own worst enemy in her pursuit to be seen is the first step to possessing autonomy, though, and Sweeney unleashes everything Karen wishes she could say to D. in a cathartic release that may or may not hope to trade one bad scenario for the next. Adulthood is thus revealed as willingly breaking your own heart to hope theirs survives.
Clementine opens virtual cinemas on May 8. Click here for a list of participating theaters.