Mark (Alex Ozerov) is a typical suburban teenager. He doesn’t want to get a summer job (who needs one when selling pot will trump any minimum wage gig?), he parties with his friends, and he watches porn. When his uncle marries a Russian immigrant Mark and his new cousin Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon) start an unexpected, illicit relationship.
David Bezmozgis’ second feature tries to tackle a lot. Issues of the immigrant experience, Arab-Israeli conflict, and sex worker exploitation all come out, at least as background. Though the film bites off a lot, it’s really digestible in the simple conversations between Mark and Natasha. The two have a decent chemistry that easily transcends the rest of the movie, which is sometimes awash in cliché and clumsiness.
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There are believability issues in the film. Sometimes it’s small and insignificant: what 16 year-old would forget to close the porn on his computer? Sometimes it’s bigger: why is Mark so trusting of Natasha that he’ll deal pot in front of her right away? And sometimes it’s aggravating: all of the dialogue between Mark and drug dealer Rufus (Aidan Shipley).
But while most of that can be explained away or easily overlooked Natasha never really finds a rhythm. Whether it’s the rote pop music that blares every time Mark touches a bike (thank god for that last, quiet bike ride), or the generally boring coverage, the film feels mechanical outside of those aforementioned conversations. It’s a long bit of dialogue, post-coitus, that’s the best moment in the film.
Towards the end of the film Bezmozgis’ style seems to loosen up. There’s a quick, stylish flashback/nightmare, a meaningful wide shot that lingers on an apartment building, and a well-designed final frame, but that’s all too sparse to elevate Natasha.