Trimark // 2001 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 16th, 2002
Sex, Drugs and Study Hall.
My one word review of Tart, both the film and DVD: dull. I could leave it at that and achieve the most concise review in this site's history, but I feel obliged to expand. The film takes a peek into the life of Cat (Dominique Swain), a prep school girl from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and her circle of friends -- if one can call them friends. Cat's best friend Delilah is played by Bijou Phillips. When she's expelled from school for behaving exactly the way every character ever played by Bijou Phillips (Bully) behaves, Cat gets in with the popular crowd, a vacuous bunch of stuffed shirts we're supposed to find humorous. From there, nothing really happens except some shoplifting, tame sex, a little cocaine snorting, and a dance any real teen would find a drag. But these aren't normal teens; they're disaffected rich teens on their bumpy journey toward becoming bores. They sit around, talk, read the society pages, eat at posh restaurants; none rides a skateboard, plays video games, or watches MTV. Writer/director Christina Wayne likely modeled their ennui after Holden Caulfield's -- Caulfield, though, would despise them all. Oh, and Brad Renfro (also from Bully) is in the movie, too, playing a guy for whom Cat has the most low-key crush in the history of teen movies -- fair enough since, watching him, one wonders if he even has a pulse. The movie ends in a murder because, well, time was ticking away and something had to happen, preferably something to elicit an emotional response from the film's protagonist.
Critics have accused Tart of not having a plot. They're wrong. It has the sort of slice-of-life plot that characterizes many teen movies, starting with Rebel Without a Cause and threading its way through American Graffiti and Fast Times At Ridgemont High and even American Pie. Teen films don't necessarily need highly structured plots because, by nature, they're bildungsroman -- loosely related vignettes connect because of the growth they produce in the characters. In order to construct a successful slice of life, though, one must have ears and eyes precisely tuned to the subtleties of human interaction as well as the details of the world the characters inhabit. Christina Wayne displays none of this. Cameron Crowe she ain't. As a result, the film feels plotless because none of the big moments are big, none resonate emotionally the way the need to. The film plays like the actors' first read through the script, or a rehearsal. At 91 minutes in length, Tart feels about twice as long as Lawrence Of Arabia.
The presentation of the film on DVD is squarely mediocre. The image is slightly soft and has more grain than a year-and-a-half old film ought to (granted, it is a low-budget, direct-to-video title). Isolated instances of shimmering and edge-enhancement are particularly noticeable in fine horizontal lines like window blinds. The source print exhibits scratches and blemishes here and there. The Dolby stereo audio is clear but flat.
One more note: in addition to the film's trailer, there is an easy-to-find Easter egg that leads to trailers for two more Dominique Swain films, Lolita and Dead in the Water.
If you're looking for a fun or thought-provoking teen movie, avoid Tart. Hey, with the recent spate of adolescent fair, it's not as though you'll have to look very hard to find an alternative (I've never actually seen it, but I recently read a positive review of Dude, Where's My Car? somewhere -- in the least, it's got to be livelier than Tart). On the other hand, if you're an insomniac for whom counting sheep and prescription medication haven't done the trick, Tart may be just what you're looking for.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R