Those expecting action-movie pyrotechnics from Bradley Rust Gray's The Exploding Girl will be disappointed—the only loaded weapon in this indie is the title, at once a vulgar joke at the expense of its epilepsy-stricken heroine and an accurate assessment of her emotional arc. Zoe Kazan stars as the titular girl, a college freshman named Ivy who travels home to Manhattan for spring break. It's not exactly Girls Gone Wild: Ivy's lifestyle, structured to avoid seizure triggers like stress and booze, is conservative for the average 18-year-old. Between doctor appointments, meals with her harried single mom, and awkward phone calls with her distant boyfriend, Ivy roams the city with Al (Mark Rendall), her goofy-cute best friend from high school. But Al goes out at night to get stoned, leaving Ivy to lie in bed alone, staring at her un-ringing phone. Girl is narratively slight, but aesthetically and psychologically complex. At times it feels more like an illustrated audio collage than a movie—dialogue is mixed at the same volume as traffic, and the sounds of the city seem to substitute for Ivy's internal monologue. Avoiding allegorical clichés, Gray turns the frustrations of epilepsy—the dozens of small concerns that, in combination, strangle Ivy's free will—into an effective metaphor for non-epileptic youthful paralysis, and the inevitable "explosion" into the culmination of all those growing pains, as the girl who fought so hard to keep herself contained suddenly can't hold back.
Lost in the city: Kazan and Rendall.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., April 2–Thurs., April 8. Not rated. 80 minutes.