Starring Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson, Kira Mclean, Jane McNeill, Aidan Fiske, Kaleigh Keller, Michael Greene, Abby Wathen, Sean Ramey, Jenna Brister, Brian Bremer, Kim Cheek, Paul D’Elia, Chelsea Laren, Mark Scarboro, Molly Nugent, Kassidy Slaughter and Robert Shepherd.
Screenplay by Colette Burson.
Directed by Colette Burson.
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Everyone has bad hair days, but they seem to be matters of life or death in this quirky but charming coming of age film.
Set in the early 80s (LOVE the soundtrack music!) in a small southern town, Permanent follows the adventures of the new girl in school Aurelie (Kira McLean) and her oddball parents (Patricia Arquette and Rainn Wilson) as they settle into a new lifestyle in a new area after dad was finished his military service with the “Army hospitality service” – he is proud to have worked as a steward on Air Force One for four sitting Presidents (Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan – he missed out on Ford because Ford didn’t last long enough).
Now dad is insecurely failing to find a new job that he is overqualified for, daughter is dealing with ostracism and bullying in school, and mom is trying desperately to keep the family afloat with a dead-end job as a waitress at a fried chicken restaurant.
Permanent has the makings for a sweet and funny slice of life, but it only makes it halfway there, being slightly too obstinately oddball for its own good, slightly too boilerplate to really stand out in the ways it would like. It is sweet, sometimes very funny, and has some fine performances, but eventually it almost evaporates in your brain as soon as you have seen it.
After all this is the story of two people who obsess about their hair – and while that is a normal human thing, it is also a rather shallow motivation to hang an entire movie plot upon.
Dad is ashamed of his baldness, so his life is ruled by wearing a not-at-all realistic toupee. Despite the fact everyone recognizes he is wearing a rug, he absolutely refuses to acknowledge it. He even puts off taking a job he desperately needs at a college because one of the requirements of getting the job is taking a swimming test.
In the meantime, the daughter, a perfectly pretty girl, wants a new hairdo to start at the new school. Mom, who is constantly crying poor, talks her into getting it at a beauty school rather than a beauty shop, which would be much more expensive. The student gives her a just awful perm, and instead of eventually returning to normal it seems to last and last and last.
In a wonderfully nuanced scene, her mother tries to convince her that she will be happier when she realizes that she is “cute” rather than pretty, because it’s a lot easier to live up to this expectation. (The mom uses herself as an example.)
This all segues into a perfectly reasonable “new girl in school” story, with her odd hair and her exotic French name making Aurelie the target of the mean girls and bullies. She tries to befriend Lydia (the wonderful Nena Daniels), who she sees as a fellow outcast because she is the only black girl in school, though Lydia wants nothing to do with this needy white girl. Aurelie also has a particularly undignified first romantic relationship with a slimy classmate who is ashamed to be seen with her.
While her school life is falling apart, so is her home life. Dad is set in his ways and angry that he can’t find a better job. Mom is feeling lonely, unloved, and overwhelmed by being the main breadwinner. Mom insists upon therapy for everyone, but with her normal frugal sense she goes to free sources that just complicate things more.
There is some wonderful acting here – Arquette, Wilson, McLean and especially Daniels are wonderful in their parts. Writer/director Burson (formerly of HBO’s Hung) has a fine ear for dialogue and some funny lines, and this semi-autobiographical film obviously matters to her.
However, the audience can’t help but feeling that Permanent is running on fumes even before the extremely predictable denouement.
Permanent is a sweet enough little film, but it is not the kind of thing that anyone will ever become passionate about.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 15, 2017.