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From the lowercase lettering of the title to the deadly familiarity of the plot, there is much to grate on your nerves in this TV Afterschool Special trying to pass as a real movie. But Kirsten Dunst deserves an untarnished gold star for her touching performance as Nicole, the teen daughter of Tom Oakley (Bruce Davison), a California congressman who, after the suicide of his wife (Nicole’s mother), has remarried, started a new family and kept Nicole at arm’s length. Which is hard to do, since Nicole’s dependence on boozend drugs is attention-getting, as is her sexual promiscuity. When she brings the hunkish Carlos Nunez (the excellent Jay Hernandez), a poor Latino student with dreams of being a pilot, to the Oakley home in posh Pacific Palisades, liberal Dad is delighted with Nicole’s ethnic stand. He’s less thrilled that Nicole is fucking Carlos without a condom. Is Nicole’s behavior self-destructive or a cry for help to Daddy? One guess.

The script might be a bust, but the press notes on the film reveal that Dunst had help. Her long blond mane was “skillfully cropped into ‘I don’t care hair’ courtesy of Martin Samuel and is complimented by ‘bare-faced truth makeup’ by Susan Cabral-Ebert.” Does Meryl Streep know about this? All the actors try, and cheers to Davison for making something human out of a politico who sends his daughter to rehab with the words “Marty Sheen says it’s the best.” Movies from Mad Love to Save the Last Dance have worked this tired turf, and John Stockwell’s direction does nothing to blow away the cobwebs. All the “I don’t care hair” and “bare-faced truth makeup” can’t hide the truth that crazy/beautiful is lazy/dutiful.

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