“I feel like I could do anything with you,” says Sarah (Dianna Agron) to Pepper (Paz de la Huerta) late in Bare, a coming-of-age story set in the wide plains and forbidding strip clubs of Nevada. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to this sense of starry-eyed potential, and throughout its fleet runtime feels increasingly like a middle-of-the-road Nineties indie.
You’ve heard it before: Innocent-seeming blonde meets shambolic brunette; self-discovery ensues. Bare reduces Sarah to pouting melancholy, and Pepper to a mess. Both women have intriguing screen presences, particularly de la Huerta, who with her wildly expressive mouth and mussed hair recalls Mick Jagger as a feral child.
It’s a shame, then, that Bare undersells its characters. We know that Sarah has family issues, but they’re mostly left unexplored, and we never learn just how Pepper became a drug dealer at a strip joint. The story’s few men are largely macho and brutish. It’s no wonder that Sarah would develop an attraction to Pepper, when her own boyfriend has no real personality to speak of. Sarah begins tentatively stripping where Pepper does her business, and it’s frustrating to see yet another depiction of a strip club as a trashy cocaine den — has there ever been a well-adjusted stripper in a film?
Natalia Leite, here making her feature directorial debut, does have a knack for capturing a sense of place. Both the Nevada landscapes and a supermarket where Sarah works early on have a pleasing clarity and recognizable feeling of malaise. The environment says more than the characters ever do.
Written and directed by Natalia Leite
Opens October 30, IFC Center