Dances with Films 2016: Creedmoria, by Rita Cannon
Alicia Slimmer’s coming-of-age comedy Creedmoria was inspired by her actual experiences growing up in Queens in the 1980s and it definitely feels like a film based on someone’s memories, for better and for worse. It has an emotional urgency and a clever eye for detail that keeps its formulaic plot from dragging too much, but it also has a disjointed quality that starts out intriguing, but eventually hobbles its own attempt at a triumphant ending.
Stef Dawson anchors the film with her charming lead performance as Candy Cahill, a tough but optimistic high schooler struggling to deal with her dysfunctional family, crappy job at a burger joint, and burgeoning romantic relationship with Billy, a leather-clad bad boy who even Candy refers to as a caveman. The setting is 1980s New York, but the art direction and costuming suggest a sort of candy-colored hybrid of the eighties and the fifties; it sometimes feels more like an homage to Happy Days or Grease than to John Hughes. Slimmer cites Hughes and John Waters as influences, and the latter director’s penchant for multiple layers of warped nostalgia, which Slimmer deploys to great comic effect, is definitely apparent here. Steve Cavanaugh’s performance as Billy, for instance, is just this side of Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby, but with some genuine menace thrown in.
Her family is composed of unhappy oddballs – a drug-addicted older brother, closeted gay younger brother, and a narcissistic mother (the wonderful Rachel de Benedet) who can only process her kids’ problems insofar as they reflect badly on her. The Cahills also live just down the street from the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, and encounters with its not-all-there residents, nicknamed “Creedmorians,” while they’re venturing out on a day pass aren’t uncommon. The film draws explicit parallels between being locked up in a mental hospital and being trapped in a broken family that could have easily edged into being insensitive, but we come to identify so strongly with Dawson’s Candy that the comparison comes off instead as appropriately adolescent.
Candy wants more than anything to break out – of her family, of Queens, and of her controlling relationship with Billy. Creedmoria follows her as she gains the courage to do just that, but it doesn’t always have the patience to let one incident follow naturally from another. It sometimes hops from one major plot development to another so quickly that it glosses over the emotional fallout of what’s happened, leaving us to fill in the blanks. Slimmer’s debut shows that she has a great sense of visual flair and a way with actors but her clunky screenplay often gets in the way of big emotional moments, resulting in a fun but uneven film that’s ultimately a minor entry into the coming-of-age genre.