California Scheming got an extremely limited theatrical release in January and it’s currently available via On Demand. I have to admit that the only reason I ended up watching it is was because of the film’s title. Having now seen the film, I still think it could definitely use a better title but the movie was still a lot more memorable than I was expecting.
California Scheming opens with a few scenes that seem like they were almost lifted verbatim from a 1969 film called Last Summer. (Last Summer shows up occasionally on TCM and you really should watch it.) Much as in Last Summer, California Scheming opens with an attractive but apparently sociopathic teenage girl (Gia Mantegna) discovering a wounded sea gull on the beach. The girl recruits two teenage boys (played by Spencer Daniels and Devon Werkheiser) to help her both nurse the gull back to health and teach it how to fly again. All three of them are pretty, shallow, and rich and quickly become close friends. However, they end up meeting a shy girl (played here by Rachel Seiferth) who objects to the way they treat their pet sea gull. The shy girl and the more sensitive of the two boys end up becoming a couple. In Last Summer, this leads to the shy girl being raped. In California Scheming, it leads to Mantegna convincing her three friends to break into a house with her, at which point the film’s plot takes a uniquely disturbing turn of its own.
California Scheming has been getting some terrible reviews but I rather liked it. The film looks great, the cast is pretty enough that it really doesn’t matter that they’re not great actors, and director Marco Weber does a good job at creating and maintaining a persistent atmosphere of both suffocating ennui and impending doom. The most frequent complaint that I’ve seen about California Scheming is that, up until the final few minutes, nothing really happens in the film but I think that’s the point. California Scheming is a portrait of people who, as a result of having everything, are doomed to accomplish nothing. As a result, California Scheming may not be entertaining in the conventional sense of the word but, when taken on its own terms, it’s something of a minor existential masterpiece.