Permanent Is Too Much Like a Bad Hair Day

One of the 120 films at the Twin Cities Film Festival this past month, Permanent seemed to be a small, quirky coming of age story. I was skeptical about it initially—I couldn’t find anything about it on social media or much of an Internet presence at all. The film is set in 1983 in a small town in Virginia. New to the area, 13-year-old Aurelie (Kira McLean) begs her parents, Jim (Rainn Wilson) and Jeanne Dixon (Patricia Arquette) to let her get a permanent; things go horribly wrong, and Aurelie’s hair turns out like a bad Halloween wig, which leads to her being bullied.

Aurelie, horrified, looks at herself in the mirror

Aurelie “admiring” her hair as her mother looks on. Magnolia Pictures

The TCFF screening for Permanent was an experience of its own. There was an excited energy in the audience; it was evident people wanted to see this film, and director Colette Burson was in attendance, which added to the buzz. One of the reasons I chose to see Permanent was because the director was female, and Burson, creator of the HBO series Hung, has done her share of writing and producing. It was really inspiring to see a female director, especially in the flesh, being able to talk about her film processing in front of an eager audience.

From the opening credits, you can tell that the film is embracing its indie status. It screams Wes Anderson at times, featuring deadpan humor with quick zoom-in shots on certain details to elaborate on character details. The film world itself doesn’t have a distinct style other than common ’80s décor—the Dixon house has the ugly knickknacks that your grandmother might still have on her shelf and the hideous floral wallpaper we want to forget. That doesn’t make the scenery horrible, but it doesn’t make it special either.

And that is how I felt about the film as a whole. It was well made, despite some questionable camera angles. The humor didn’t always land, but there were a few original jokes that made me giggle. It seemed like Permanent was trying too hard to be an indie favorite, and it just fell short, from the delivery of the jokes to the writing. Don’t get me wrong; it is a decent film. There were a couple genuinely funny moments, but there were so many times I wanted to check the time on my phone. I blame this on the pacing of the film: we get one scene after another that tries to give us character development, but the efforts fall flat. There is so much focus on the comedy that you find yourself forgetting about the characters themselves.

What really makes this movie what it is, however, is the cast. Permanent is a contradiction in this respect—the main cast is fantastic, while the supporting cast is downright horrible. The first scene of the movie felt like a high-school film project in which the actress couldn’t deliver the line naturally. It was cringe worthy, and similar issues are sprinkled throughout the entire film. However, the main cast shine by contrast. Wilson and Arquette have great chemistry together, and the best scenes of the movie are when the two are arguing and it escalates to a ridiculous climax. McLean feeds off their energy, and all three are great in every scene together.

Jeanne lies on her back, looking up

Jeanne thinks she sees God. Magnolia Pictures

Permanent isn’t doing anything groundbreaking, and I believe it’s aware of that. But it doesn’t seem to know that it’s trying to be this hidden-gem indie comedy. It’s an enjoyable enough film that doesn’t leave a lasting impression; the development is flat, the movie feels rushed, and ultimately, we are left with nothing memorable. It isn’t a waste of time, but you will forget about it when you wake up the next morning.

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