Lost and Delirious

You know a film is in for some tragedy when the characters start studying Shakespeare in their English classes. Certainly some key line spoken by one of the Bard’s many doomed lovers, highlighted by the dowdy old schoolmarm in a scene half-way through the movie, will come to have relevance later.

“Lost and Delirious” follows this formula to a T, but is otherwise generally beyond reproach as a tragic story of a tortured romance at an all-girls boarding school.

If “romance” and “all-girls boarding school” make you furrow your eyebrows in puzzlement, perhaps knowing that this is a Sundance Film Festival entry will help you understand. The lesbianism is not shied away from; in fact, there is a very graphic sex scene between two of the girls, and effectively moody pop music by the likes of Sara Maclachlan is sprinkled throughout.

The romance is between Victoria (Jessica Pare) and Paulie (Piper Perabo). Victoria has strict parents whom she doesn’t like; Paulie was adopted and is trying to find her birth mother. Paulie is the rebellious one at the snooty school, swearing at teachers and spiking the punch; Victoria goes along with her on most points.

Initially, however, the main character is Mary “Mouse” Bradford (Mischa Barton), a new student whose mother has died and whose father and stepmother have sent her away. She’s resentful of this, but keeps it inside, until the living Id that is Paulie helps her let it out.

Mary discovers Victoria and Paulie’s well-kept secret early on, as she shares a bedroom with them. The lovers are glad to have their friend know about their relationship, but when several other girls walk in on them and realize what’s going on, Victoria quickly back-pedals. She can’t handle being a lesbian and having everyone know about it, so she breaks things off with her one true love and takes up with a boy from the nearby all-boys school (where, we can assume, parallel stories of forbidden love are also taking place).

Paulie, never the stable one to begin with, goes rather nutty at being dumped. She’s lost not just her lover, but her best friend. She begins a rather interesting relationship with an injured bird of prey in the woods behind the school, and her connection to the animal is an interesting metaphor for everything else that’s going on.

Once the film gets past the initial girls-school quaintness (oh, look, they’re having pillow fights!), it never lets up. Piper Perabo, who was really bad in “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” and “Coyote Ugly,” apparently decided to stop sucking and start acting, because she does an admirable job with this very difficult role. Paulie is irrtaional and dramatic, prone to immature behavior, while constantly trying to be an independent grown-up. Her flat refusal to accept help from concerned teachers is poignant.

Mary’s friendship with the groundskeeper is unnecessary and trite, but the rest of the film is effective. It captures the emotions of the central characters in a powerful way, and its tragic air is palpable throughout.

B+ (; R, frequent harsh profanity, graphic nudity and sexuality, some violence.)