If you’ve watched Encore over the last few month, you may have come across a 2001 film called Tart. I did and, despite some pretty glaring flaws, I enjoyed the film. However, I then checked out a few of the reviews that have been posted online and I discovered that I may very well be the only person in the world who doesn’t hate this movie.
Tart is a coming-of-age story. Teenage Cat (Dominique Swain) lives in Manhattan with her divorced mother and her bratty younger brother. Cat attends an exclusive private school with her best friend Delilah (Bijou Phillips) and has a huge crush on William (Brad Renfro). After Delilah is expelled from school, Cat befriends the snobby Gracie (Mischa Barton) and starts to reinvent herself as one of the popular kids. Along with being popular comes drugs, sex, and, eventually, violence.
I will be the first to admit that a lot of the negative criticism of Tart is justified.
Is the film largely plotless? It is indeed but so is life.
Are all of the film’s adults presented as being one-dimensional jerks? Yes but then again, we are seeing them and their actions through the eyes of a teenage girl and, when you’re a teenager, most adults do seem to be jerks.
Does the film get a bit heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with casual anti-Semitism? It sure does but then again, anyone who thinks that anti-Semitism isn’t on the rise in this country obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the news.
Does the film’s melodramatic conclusion seem to come out of nowhere? Yes, it does. However, when you’re a teenager, everything eventually becomes a melodrama.
Does Brad Renfro seem to spend the entire film wishing he was somewhere else? Yes, he does. In many ways, his performance is painful to watch, both because his character is fighting the same battle with drugs that would ultimately cost Brad his life and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be all that invested in his performance. Watching the film, you’re struck by just how detached Renfro is from the material. It’s easy to criticize the lack of chemistry between Brad Renfro and Dominique Swain but then again, who hasn’t had a crush on a self-destructive bad boy? Who hasn’t thought that she — and she alone — could see something hidden away inside a damaged soul that only she could understand? Who hasn’t dreamed of understanding (and saving) an enigma? Sometimes, detachment is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Does Bijou Phillips play the same role that she seems to play every time she shows up on screen? Yes, she is playing another wild best friend here but then again, she plays the role well and who hasn’t had a friend who refused to conform?
Does Mischa Barton give a rather broad and over-the-top performance in this film? Yes, she does but then again …. well, sorry. I can’t really think of any way to turn that into a positive.
And yet, despite all of the film’s many flaws, I couldn’t dislike Tart. Tart is one of those films that totally misses the big picture and but manages to get so many of the small details right that I couldn’t help but relate to Dominique Swain’s character.
It was the little scenes that worked for me, like the scene where Cat shoplifts for the first time and runs out of the store knowing she’s done something wrong and yet still feeling exhilarated to have gotten away with something or the painfully (for this viewer, at least) accurate scenes of Cat waiting for her father to call on her birthday and then spitefully lashing out at her mother when he doesn’t. I’ve had best friends like Delilah and it was impossible for me not to wince a little at the scenes where Cat and Delilah argue over Cat’s new friends because, seriously, I’ve been there. Even the scene during the opening credits, in which Cat’s skirt is blown upward just as she happens to walk by the boy she likes, felt painfully familiar. Who hasn’t been embarrassed in front of a crush?
It’s the little details that allowed me to relate to this massively flawed film. It’s the little details that make Tart a guilty pleasure.
Previous Guilty Pleasures: