Actor-turned-first-time-filmmaker Sophie Kargman’s Susie Searches had its premiere almost a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival, and it seemed to disappear until recently. The title comes from the name of a fictional, failing true-crime podcast, hosted by Susie (Kiersey Clemons), a college student with few friends but an uncanny ability to solve mysteries quickly. When she was a child, Susie’s mother would read her mystery novels as bedtime stories, and she would know who the criminal was within the first 10-15 pages. As a result, her detective skills were second to none, but she also learned the thought process of criminals and where they made the mistakes that eventually led them to getting caught.
While she’s not in class, she’s at work in a local burger joint run by the anal-retentive Edgar (Ken Marino). There, she works alongside the vaguely jerkish Jillian (the great Rachel Sennot, Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies), and obsesses over a fellow student and online star Jesse (Alex Wolff), who talks about meditating a lot and has a huge social media following. One day, Jesse goes missing, and the local sheriff (Jim Gaffigan) and his asshole deputy (David Walton) are having no luck finding the missing lad; his best friend Ray (Isaac Powell) is starting to panic. Susie also interns at the sheriff’s office, hoping to hone her investigative skills, but she decides that she’s going to solve this case, which she does in just a couple of days, making her a local hero and Jesse’s newest inner-circle member.
The story about Jesse being found by a classmate even gets national attention, and Susie’s podcast picks up a great number of new listeners. It all seems to be going perfectly for her, almost too perfectly, and without spoiling any of the film’s surprises, Susie’s higher profile makes her a target on several levels. She’s attempting to balance school, work, her podcast, and taking care of her now infirm mother, so dodging unwanted followers and possibly even investigators isn’t what she signed up for.
Susie Searches isn’t meant to be a comedy by the strictest definition, but it is something of a lighthearted mystery, with some charming characters and a few suspects, whom we know didn’t do it because the film is setting them up as guilty. Clemons (recently seen in The Flash, Hearts Beat Loud, Dope) is simply a natural at being likable and sympathetic. We want her to have a following and feel better about herself, preferably without putting herself in danger, intentionally or not. The rest of the cast features some of my favorite younger actors and gifted character players, so I was rooting for the film to eventually go somewhere with a little more bite. It feels like it’s ramping up to say something powerful about the obsession with manufactured fame that so many young people crave, but never quite gets there, which doesn’t tank the movie but it does soften its power. If you are okay seeing a movie with a stellar cast being put through the paces of a decidedly average screenplay (by Kargman and William Day Frank), I suppose you could do worse than Susie Searches.
The film is playing in theaters.
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