It’s always difficult to combine the elements of comedy with crime drama. Especially if the protagonist is a true crime aficionado. Coen brothers have developed a flair for it in the most inventive and rib-tickling ways. Their characters are rooted in the creator’s world, which lends authenticity to their tics and mannerisms. They balance the absurdity of their situations with subversive delight without ever feeling overdone. Sadly, that is not the case with Susie Searches. 

Directed by Sophie Kargman, Susie Searches is a bumpy ride brimming with ideas that fail to coalesce into a meaningful whole. Susie Wallace has a gift for guessing the culprits in detective mystery novels. She grows into an aloof teenager who looks after her ailing mother and runs a true crime podcast in her free time. Her mother reassures her that she is special. But her podcast does not receive much adulation until she miraculously rescues an abducted collegemate, Jesse, known for his meditation videos.

She grows into an overnight star, but things get complicated when the main accused is relieved of his charges, and she has to dig deeper to find the real culprit while saving herself from danger.

The film invites us to make many leaps and bounds in the case without ever properly justifying them. Susie’s plan to kidnap Jesse then put the blame on his uncle, and then portray herself as his rescuer seems too far-fetched and undercooked. It demands a great deal of suspension of disbelief on our part. Moreover, it goes too far to establish the police officer at the sheriff’s department as buffoons. A college kid outwits them by using her knowledge derived from pulpy crime novels, and they don’t suspect her till much later. 

Similarly, Ryan later revealed to be Jesse’s boyfriend, dies in the most cliched accident in cinematic cannon – he falls from the window of Susie’s room. It is a convenient coincidence to remove the only character who knew about her B-movie-style kidnapping sham so that it paves the way for Susie to devise other methods to divert the police’s attention.

In fact, it is fairly evident since the first meeting that Jesse and Ryan are in a relationship while Susie is oblivious to this information. So when Jesse reveals this to Susie after Ryan’s death, it doesn’t come as much of a shocker or ironic moment as the director intends to. We knew that Susie was working towards this tragi-comic twist of fate the moment she set her eyes on him at the diner while Ryan suspiciously investigated her. 

Rachel Sennott as Jillian in Susie Searches (2023).
Rachel Sennott as Jillian in Susie Searches (2023).

The satirical depictions of American media and the schooling system don’t feel organic. The characters are reduced to caricatures to convey the hollowness of media sensationalism and the college’s efforts to bolster its image through students’ fame. Susie’s need for validation from her peers, her desperation for popularity, and her romantic longing for Jesse never fully bloom. Although she is the protagonist, it feels like she is driven by the contrived plot mechanics of the film rather than being a free agent forced to act a certain way due to the circumstances surrounding her. Her actions are more part of the narrative threads the director has woven instead of being a part of her character’s behavior.

The director resorts to Dutch tilts, split screens, and other mambo-jumbo editing techniques to underscore the character’s mental progress. It becomes gimmicky in most places rather than serving the storytelling. Especially the overuse of snorricam sequences doesn’t add much to the visual grammar. However, the background score is inventive and creates genuine tension in places that otherwise would have felt bland. It is one of the better aspects of the movie. 

The performance by Kiersey Clemons is good, but not something which leaves a lasting impact. The same goes for other cast members, except the actor who plays the sociopathic Calbot. He goes too literal to make his character appear weird and unhinged, but it turns unintentionally campy. The ending is well constructed and pulls the rug from under Susie’s feet.

The director makes good use of the earlier breadcrumbs to land the final twist, which gives Susie away after such careful, though juvenile, planning. Had the director made an effort to make her plans seem plausible rather than using her crime novel obsession as a crutch for her badly executed missteps, the premise may have worked. Sadly it fails to engage at any level, and we are left with an unconvincing crime-comedy drama that fails at both – crime and comedy. 

Read More: Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022) Movie Review

Susie Searches (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Susie Searches (2023) Movie Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Alex Wolff, Jim Gaffigan, Rachel Sennott
Where to watch Susie Searches

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