Given the prosaic title of the film, Kelly & Cal is a straightforward human interest film about two unlikely people forming a close relationship within a society they feel ostracized from. Most of the film is purely surface, meaning there isn’t much personal introspection of the two main characters. Instead, the film spends its near-two-hour-long runtime focusing on what the main characters do with each other rather than offering some kind of tangible goal that audiences can expect the characters to achieve…or fail to achieve. As such, Kelly & Cal at times feels directionless, but it still works because the two leads act well together and handily carry the film.
Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is a new mother in her mid-thirties. She and her husband, Josh (Josh Hopkins), have recently moved into a new neighborhood, leaving Kelly marooned in her home with a baby she isn’t mentally ready to care for. By chance, she meets a neighborhood boy named Cal (Jonny Weston), who is confined to a wheelchair after a nasty accident. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, with each person filling a void in each other’s life. As their relationship blossoms, however, can Kelly and Cal keep their friendship from becoming something more than it should?
This film probably didn’t need to be as long as it is, but one of Kelly & Cal’s charms is its deliberateness in its presentation, though it will be a few minutes before most audiences will appreciate it. The film takes its time in presenting a palpable world for its characters. So while a tighter film might convey Kelly’s loneliness via some quick shots or scenes, Kelly & Cal goes one step further and shows Kelly being repulsed by the local mommy club. Then the film goes one step further after that to show how Kelly doesn’t fit in with her old friends. But that isn’t enough for this film; it even ruins Kelly’s one place of solace – her home – by introducing overbearing in-laws who constantly visit. Hopefully, by then audiences will understand that the only safe place for Kelly is with Cal. For many, this comprehensive approach will make the film feel slow. Fortunately, the film only threatens to drag, but never actually does so.
What keeps the film from losing viewers’ attention is its excellent casting and engaging writing. Juliette Lewis is natural, organic, and, at times, fearless in her portrayal. She looks and feels completely comfortable in her role, and audiences will never have cause to doubt her authenticity. The same goes for Jonny Weston, who gives his character an admirable wisdom and maturity beyond his years. Couple the fine acting with smart writing and every scene just feels right. Kelly & Cal is full of delicious moments that are brimming with real world truths, like the tendency for mommy clubs to feel like a clique or how people equate having a pet to having a baby. It’s this repugnance for aspects of modern living that can make having a relationship with a teenager seem sensible.
Yet, while the writing is good, it does suffer from the same flaw that most films that try to write engaging teenage characters suffer from: The teenage character is too mature. So while it’s always satisfyingly ironic to have a young character espouse adult viewpoints, it’s hard not to see the artificiality of the dialogue. Teenagers are rarely this self-aware and vulnerable. But, accepting that this is a movie and not real life, Cal doesn’t feel out of place within the film.
For all of its positive points, Kelly & Cal struggles to offer a coherent message. This is probably due to neither main character having any significant overarching goals throughout the story. Their relationship is mostly based on just hanging out and talking. When something happens near the end of the film that threatens the relationship, some dialogue is exchanged about “broken people”, but even that feels off the mark. By then, however, audiences will probably have seen as much of these people and their issues as they care to see and will just want the story resolved. Fortunately, the film ends at just the right time, leaving audiences with an intimate slice of life without a life lesson.