Breaks Out in the Sultry Breakup Drama Clementine
By Jay S. Jacobs
The devastation of a sudden breakup – that feeling that you have found the person who may complete you, only to have it suddenly ripped away from you and you realize that the other person has already moved on – that is a feeling most people have experienced at least once in their lives. This vulnerable point in many people’s existence is the starting off point in the intriguing new dramatic thriller Clementine.
Clementine is about Karen – played by Otmara Marrero – an aspiring artist who falls for an older, more established artist named D (Sonya Walger) after meeting her at an exhibition of the woman’s work. Karen is introduced in a flashback home video, in which D films trying to awaken Karen in bed, and when a contented Karen sleepily says she wants to rest, D says teasingly and regretfully that Karen’s youth will someday break her heart. Half awake, Karen assures her that she has never broken a heart.
Fast forward a few months, and it is D who has broken Karen’s. D broke up with her, threw her out of the house, she even stole Karen’s beloved dog. Devastated and with no place to go, Karen tries to pick up the pieces, taking a bus from Los Angeles to Oregon and breaking into D’s vacation lake house.
While there Karen befriends a mysterious, pretty, younger local woman named Lana (Sydney Sweeney), and they fall into a complicated relationship. Are they friends? Is Karen a mentor? Are they potential lovers? Are they a shoulder to lean or cry on? Neither woman is really what she appears to be, and yet each fulfills some deep seeded need for each other to grow. And yet, eventually their lies seem to be leading to some kind of explosion.
It’s a terrific lead performance by Marrero. The young actress, who has been turning heads in the likes of Dick Wolf’s revival of the older series NY Undercover, the popular video streaming series StartUp and the film Miss Arizona, impresses in her lead role. She really captures the pain and confusion of her character.
The script for Clementine – based on a real-life experience by first time writer/director Lara Jean Gallagher – intrigued Marrero from the start.
“When I read it, something in my self-conscious told me I had to tell this story,” Marrero says. “I was thinking about it. Earlier in my life I was in a relationship with a much older man who had a lot of money. Was there some unfilled part of me that felt like through Karen I could completely close that chapter? There were a lot of beautiful other things about Clementine, but mostly the fact that it just felt like it had no time stamp.”
The film was, first and foremost, the story of a woman going through torment, healing, and growth. Marrero related to that and wanted to explore this situation, to the point that when discussing Karen, she often refers to the character as “I” rather than “she.”
One of the interesting things about Clementine is that it turns out being quite different than what the audience expects coming in. It is not the romantic film about a lesbian affair that it seems like it may become, nor is it really a thriller, though it does have some very tense aspects. It’s more about the grief of a breakup and the lies that we tell each other and ourselves. That dichotomy intrigued Marrero as an actress.
“It just goes to show that heartbreak has no race, no gender,” Marrero explains. “Everyone feels the same thing when they are going through heartbreak. I just felt that I love how you can heal and someone else simultaneously heal at the same time through different experiences. There was a lot of mirroring going on. I thought it was really powerful.”
In the press notes, writer/director Gallagher refers to Clementine as “a simple drama of looking and being looked at.” That is an interesting way to describe it. The story has a bit of a voyeuristic quality. After all, it is often about trying to figure out who and what people are from a distance, and much of the time those original assumptions are wrong.
“I actually didn’t know she said that,” Marrero admits. “I think it definitely does [have a bit of a voyeuristic quality]. Again, with all the mirroring that is going on between Lana and Karen, there’s a circle of self-reflection and healing and growing and learning. Through someone else’s experience I can heal. Through someone else’s struggle I can grow.”
Growth and age is also a recurring theme in the film. As described about, first D was afraid that she was too old for Karen. After the breakup Karen is obsessing about being old, even though she’s really not all that old – probably her late 20s to early 30s. Still she compares herself to Lana who is so much younger. In fact, it turns out that Lana is younger than she lets on.
Honestly, Marrero is not sure why people get so hung up on age, but she knows it is a legit problem in life.
“I feel like lately I’ve been obsessing over age,” Marrero says. “It truly means nothing. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define your soul, or your spirit. Why do people obsess over age? Especially in relationships. My last boyfriend, he was younger, and it was definitely always in the back of my mind. Am I weird because he’s younger than me? It was something that I always thought about. Why does it even matter?”
After the breakup, Karen broke into D’s lake house and took up residence there. That is a bit extreme. But it was a needed step in her healing, even though D knew that she was there and used that knowledge to extend her control over her. Marrero respects the fact that Karen takes such dramatic action, though she knows it would not be in her nature to be so bold or crazy.
“I’ve never done anything crazy,” Marrero says. “I’m a total pussy. I’m a Pisces and extremely sensitive, so the worst thing I’ve done is cry for days.”
Still, breaking and entering would be a lot even for Marrero’s my extroverted friends.
“I can’t think of anything super crazy, but I do have one friend who is a lot bolder,” Marrero explains. “She hacked his phone. He was texting another girl and she showed up at the house while the girl was there and was just like, ‘I’m here. I’m his ex.’ Just confrontational, but nothing super crazy. I guess that’s a bit extreme.”
At least Karen picked a gorgeous place to go to extremes. The house and surrounding area are rather stunning, a good place to come to terms with a calamitous life change.
“The lake house was in Florence, Oregon, which is on the coast of Oregon. It was so beautiful. It was about two hours from Seattle.”
It is at that lake where Karen first spies Lana, laying out on the dock in a tiny bikini, the picture of youth and beauty and confidence. Of course, as said before, things are never quite as they seem.
For example, at first it feels like there will be a sexual component to Karen’s relationship with Lana. Lust and sexuality are explored, but it turns out that what the two of them need from each other is much more complicated than that. Neither one was really ready for a romantic aspect in their relationship. They each needed different things from the other.
“It was nice to be the bigger person in the relationship,” Marrero says. “The older, the more in charge, the one with the power. For me, that relationship with Lana was getting my power back, [the power] that D had taken.”
And what does Marrero think that Lana was taking from this dynamic?
“For Lana, it was just more so like learning. She kept trying to act like she was an adult, but really, she was a 16-year-old girl who babysits her little sister. She’s just a little girl. Just seeing a woman, [something] that she can’t [yet] relate to, but to see how it is, grieving through heartbreak and all that. She was just learning and experimenting. I think I was a good teacher.”
Yet, as much as they both needed each other at the time, they were both lying to each other to a certain extent. After all they went through, Marrero doesn’t know that they could eventually backpedal into having a more casual relationship.
“I think there was a line crossed,” Marrero admits. “She was a big girl. I feel like morally I took advantage of her. I don’t think we could be friends. I think lines were crossed, but I think she is a great girl. I definitely cared about her.”
To show that connection, that feeling of caring, it was important for Marrero as an actress to find the right partner for this cinematic dance. After all, though there are a few other characters in their orbit, for a great deal of the film’s running time just the two of them appear.
The search led to Sydney Sweeney, who has been building a buzz in projects like The Handmaid’s Tale, Euphoria and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Sydney had an interesting vibe; her character is trying to seem much more worldly and sexual than she actually is.
Marrero felt an instant connection.
“Oh my God, she’s a dream scene partner,” Marrero enthuses. “It was so seamless between me and her. We didn’t have much time to prepare, so all the chemistry came about as we got on set. It was very organic. She’s very in the moment. She doesn’t premeditate, which is kind of how I like to work. I like to make new discoveries as I’m on the set, as I’m telling the story. It was really seamless.”
And as for the other main woman in Karen’s life, D; honestly, what kind of horrible person takes the other person’s dog in the breakup?
“Man!” Marrero agrees. “Oh God. That’s bull. You’ve got to be really low and really petty to do something like that. You’ve got to be real low to not even have a schedule where you guys can share the pet.”
In fact, Marrero was surprised at how quickly and how completely she bonded with Ramsey, the dog who belonged to writer/director Gallagher and played Karen’s dog in the film.
“It’s crazy Jay, because I’ve never had a pet,” Marrero says. “When I first read the script and I saw that she was fighting for her dog and all this stuff, I’m like, man, I wonder how that is going to be, because I’ve never felt that kind of unconditional companion love. As soon as I met Ramsey, he just came up and there was an instant connection.”
She laughs. “I still keep up with the dog. I hit up his parents when we Facetime, and I see Ramsey all the time.”
The real low character of D is played by veteran British actress Sonya Walger. Her role was smallish here – mostly voicemails or phone voiceovers but they do have one big confrontation on camera. Even though she is not around all that much, her presence is felt throughout the film. Marrero enjoyed the experience of working with Walger.
“She was great,” Marrero says enthusiastically. “She is so sweet. I only got to work with her one day, so there weren’t enough days, but she was really sweet.”
In fact, Marrero was impressed by the work of all the actors in the film.
“I give all the credit to Nicole Arbusto and her casting, because really every person, even Will [Brittain] that wasn’t there for that long either, every person that came on, it felt like we had so much history. It just felt right. There was nothing forced. There was nothing that needed to be rewritten. There was nothing that needed to be talked about.
“When I saw [Walger] there in that scene when I come in the house, the tension was there. Maybe it’s thanks to casting. Maybe it’s thanks to such a lovely script that Lara wrote. Maybe it’s because that script is so dear to Lara, based on something she really went through in her life. Maybe that’s the depth that’s on the paper that you feel when you’re in these characters. But everything was so organic.”
Organic describes the film in general as well.
It’s perhaps a weird circumstance that Marrero’s breakthrough film is being released when all the movie theaters are suddenly closed. Like most of the rest of the world, Marrero is celebrating the release of her film by staying at home. The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a crazy time in the world, but she is philosophical about the whole thing.
“I’m not happy,” Marrero admits, “but I am grateful that we have this time – even though it is a very unfortunate time – that we have time to sit with ourselves and our thoughts. Really just reflect. It’s really forcing us to see what is important. So many things go uncherished. You take so many things for granted. Breath, life alone, waking up in the morning with the ability to move our feet and go outside – [we take that all] for granted. This quiet time to sit within ourselves; I think it was needed. I can’t wait to see how we come out of this.”
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 8, 2020.
Photos ©2020. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. All rights reserved.