Juliette Lewis typically plays the firecracker, delivering sardonic line readings in a husky hiss or exploding normalcy with eccentric behavior.
There’s a moment in Kelly & Cal when she appears at a backyard barbecue for her character’s staid in-laws with aquamarine hair, deviled eggs, and a mischievous grin. But such impishness is the exception, not the rule, in director Jen McGowan’s assured debut, in which Lewis’s Kelly is trying her level best to be a grown-up.
First seen at a six-week checkup after having her first child, Kelly is out of sorts, having recently moved to the suburbs where her husband (Josh Hopkins) grew up. When she meets their neighbor Cal (Jonny Weston), Kelly thinks he’s just an abrasive teen, but something in his defiant recklessness appeals to the former riot grrrl.
No one listens to Kelly since the birth of her son, and no one will look Cal in the eye since the accident that put him in a wheelchair. A fast friendship grows from these simple needs. Amy Lowe Starbin’s script offers a welcome directness and some sly observations about acceptance and compromise. (Characters will loudly dismiss advice before quietly taking it.)
Weston has the showier role, and he makes the most of it, letting Cal’s anger and insecurity tumble forth as comic braggadocio. Lewis takes a more subtle approach, exploring Kelly’s isolation and her tricky path to maturity as she comes to acknowledge that the life she has may actually be the one she wants.