Boy, talk about a light, dullish teen dramedy that turns icky on a dime.
“Face 2 Face” is one of the most striking miscalculations in movie tone in recent memory. From light, right on the cusp of sweet, to just dark and grim and unable to pull off that transition. The leap to thriller will give you whiplash.
It’s a not-quite-charming cheat, a two-hander about former childhood friends who reconnect as teens, start sharing and helping, coaching and advising each other via a Facetime clone called “Face2Face.”
“Teel,” who goes by “Teel-Riffic” online, tracks down “Madison, “Mad-I-Sing” across country and across the years. It’s been a decade or more since they were acquainted.
Her “Do I know you?” response to his “friend” query earns an entirely-too-quick “Can I call you?” from him.
She is beautiful, bubbly and outgoing, a school principal’s daughter out in California. He’s a loner, introverted, nerdy and friendless and stuck back in Michigan. Why would she even accept a call?
She plays with her hair and practically lives her life on social media, inviting him (via her phone) to a party where she makes a bit of a scene. He’s too introverted to even be on social media. The computer and their face chats are his lifeline. We learn his mother won’t let him get his driver’s license and that he isn’t even on Facebook.
Teel (Daniel Amerman) shows up late for school and classes, “so everybody will think I’m in a rush and not realize I don’t have anybody to talk to.”
Madison (Daniela Bobadilla) is little too eager to fill him in on her plans to snag the cute boy in her school she obsesses over — Cole (Enspirit). The garish lipstick and heavy makeup give her away. A little.
Two guys named Toronto concocted this in the “Unfriended/Friend Request/Searching” mode — split screen, real time online conversations, every camera angle achievable by a teen holding up her phone to show a party, his room, their share-everything lives.
But these kids — one, seemingly an open book, the other a sealed one — have secrets.
Teel is so dorky and fey he’s never heard of “ping pong” (something teens play in parties in the movies). Madison is so instantly trusting that she confides in Teel about her scheme to get Cole “jealous” by shamelessly making out with another guy right in front of him. Or them.
“Hey, HAND dog. Get OFF her!”
Her retiring, nightcap drinking widowed Dad is micro-managing her life, leading to her complaints about “wife” duties in her life.
Teel confesses he has “no ambition in the jock arts,” not up for the sports “auditions” his parents push him into. He’d rather try out for “Bye Bye Birdie” or “Romeo and Juliet.”
Madison is a little too fond of lollipops, is insecure about her looks, her charisma, her sex appeal. She gets grounded and loses custody of her phone.
“But he (her father) DIDN’T take my computer, just my phone. He thinks I’m doing homework on it. I guess I’ll be doing you every afternoon after school.”
Girlish giggles, and “Girls are allowed to have our minds in the gutter.” Besides, he’s in The Friend Zone. But does he want to be?
The limited point of view turns the picture dull long before we find out the obvious answer to that. There are only so many games you can play with making your face pop in the side or the top of the screen, only so much you can do with bad stage makeup (he’s beaten up) or his tips about hers — “It hides everything that’s beautiful about your face.”
“Are you saying I look like a whore?”
Bobadilla of “The Middle” has a winsome screen presence, bubbly with the confidence of the preternaturally cute. Amerman of TV’s “The Shy Ones” and “Freak Out” has the tougher job, going morose, trying to convince us he’s really auditioning to play Romeo with an energetically off-key rehearsal.
Tacky moments overwhelm the supposedly tender ones, and no “big reveal” in the middle acts prepares us for the nasty one in the film’s final act.
It’s set up and foreshadowed, but not with any of the gravitas, horror or shame its victims attach to it.
Like the split screens and limited POV of the camera, it’s a gimmick and an ugly one that doesn’t save a flailing dramedy, doesn’t lift a thriller where the “thriller” part is a screenplay afterthought.
That twist makes “Face 2 Face” icky enough to be something both its stars shave off their resumes in the very near future.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Daniela Bobadilla, Daniel Amerman, Kevin McCorkle, Enspirit, Emily Jordan
Running time: 1:28