Sometimes a carefully placed pinprick can stay with you longer than a heavier, clumsier blow. So it is with Bradley Rust Gray’s delicate but indelible “The Exploding Girl.”
This 80-minute feature is on one level the tiniest story imaginable: a look at a quiet emotional crisis a 20-year-old college student named Ivy goes through on spring break.
But writer-director Gray is so committed to his minimalist aesthetic and applies it with such craft and skill that this careful character study, so exact in its aims and execution, holds our interest almost without our noticing how it’s done.
A good deal of the credit for the success of this approach has to go to Zoe Kazan, the actress who plays Ivy, who has done wonderful things with her first starring role (she played Meryl Streep’s daughter in “It’s Complicated” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s mistress in “Revolutionary Road”).
Ivy is introduced dozing off during one of the classic rituals of college life: sharing a vacation ride home, in this case to New York.
Also in the car with Ivy is the awkward Al (an excellent, empathetic Mark Rendall), a neighborhood friend since eighth grade. Once they arrive back home, circumstances put him on the living room sofa in the apartment Ivy shares with her divorced mother (Maryann Urbano).
The movie’s title may seem odd given Ivy’s subdued nature, but it’s because she has epilepsy and is subject to stress-related seizures. This condition helps give her a kind of fragility, a sense that she’s easily bruised and even a little lost in her own life.
Small scale though it is, this is a film that knows what it wants to do and has thought out exactly how to go about doing it.