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Pasatiempo - "Freak Show" at Jean Cocteau Cinema, "Tragedy Girls" at Violet Crown view website

Pasatiempo - "Freak Show" at Jean Cocteau Cinema, "Tragedy Girls" at Violet Crown

Comedy/drama, not rated, 95 minutes, 3 chiles; Comedy/horror, rated R, 98 minutes, 3.5 chiles

It's unfortunate these two movies are playing at the same time opposite each other. They are the best teen comedies in this year's Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, but since each one is on tap for only one screening apiece, you're going to have to make a choice beforehand to only see one of them. Fortunately, both have distributors and should quickly be in commercial release, so even if you select the wrong one, you can catch the other one soon enough. Which to choose?

My preference is Tragedy Girls, which is simultaneously darker, and more biting and violent. But if you're looking for something a little lighter, funnier, and more frivolous, Freak Show is probably your best bet. It also boasts the better-known cast, including Bette Midler as the hard-drinking mother of the film's outre star, Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), an outspoken, cross-dressing gay teenager who chafes after being forced to move in with his father in a conservative red state. Billy upsets the more uptight students, especially when he mounts an outrageous campaign for homecoming queen while romancing the hero of the football team. Director Trudie Styler's debut picture follows a predictable path -- especially for those who've kept up with John Hughes' comedies -- but it has a powerful and appealing draw in Lawther's astonishingly smart and fun performance as the self-proclaimed "trans-visionary gender obliviator."

Tragedy Girls owes less to Hughes and more to Heathers and Halloween. The mad slasher genre gets a quirky retooling in this tale of two horror-obsessed teen girls, played with cheeky gusto by Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp, who are just dying for more attention in a rural Midwestern town. The sassy pair embark on a murder spree, inspired by a psychotic serial killer (Kevin Durand) who they keep locked up in a garage. Hard as it is to believe, you'll find yourself rooting them on, and cheering each new gruesome, blood-splattering display. It's all played out over social media in a grim commentary on its place in modern times. This might be the most whip-smart social-media satire yet, addressing the eternal teenage quest for fame in an age dominated by instantaneous postings. Screenwriter and director Tyler MacIntyre pays his wicked respects to everything from Clueless and Carrie to Friday the 13th. I hope it doesn't take too long for the sequel to arrive. -- Jon Bowman

"Freak Show": Jean Cocteau Cinema, 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20

"Tragedy Girls": Violet Crown, 8:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20


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