At 3 minutes 52 seconds, Selena Gomez’s dreamy “Bad Liar” video is a perfect snapshot from a 1970s high-school movie that we’ll never see. Unless, of course, Selenators band together to petition for the making of a 140-minute version…
Jesse Peretz’s video for Gomez’s deliciously ambient new-crush song looks like it might have been found on the cutting room floor of Dazed and Confused. That’s because Peretz was directly inspired by Richard Linklater’s 1993 high-school classic. The smoothly calibrated film looks as much like a 1970s artefact as anything from that decade.
Peretz even hired Austin-based Kari Perkins, one of Dazed‘s costume designers, to dress Gomez and her co-stars. Perkins clad Gomez in some wonderfully glaring multicolored women’s shirts and a horrible polyester suit.
Aside from the actors playing an ultra-mean girls quartet and a watchful student with an afro, there aren’t really co-stars at all.
There are, however, four Selena Gomezes in the cast. Thus, the precocious snark from Wizards of Waverly Place joins actors like Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and more recently Cate Blanchett who have excelled in multiple roles.
The feat is impressive because Gomez slips seamlessly from one part to another in the telling of a story that centers on a 15- or 16-year-old high-schooler getting an object lesson in the awfulness of adults—specifically, her dad the creepy principal.
The protagonist (let’s call her “Selena”) is first seen as an innocent-looking girl cruised by someone in a metallic blue-grey car as she bicycles downhill to school in a badlands region.
On arrival, she reveals her uncertainty and social awkwardness by bumping into irritated fellow students. A beautiful loner, she could pass as a cousin of Dazed’s awkward Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa)—or of the Twilight series’ Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart).
Like the taciturn Bella, “Selena” has much on her mind. The “Bad Liar” lyrics—sung with more knowingness than the character’s guileless demeanor would suggest—comprise her reluctant but excited self-admission that she’s infatuated with someone new.
Tina Weymouth’s throbbing bass line, sampled from the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” underscores “Selena’s” nerviness about making a romantic move. The admired one’s identity is the video’s brilliant visual punchline—though a clue is dropped in a basketball scene.
Gomez drolly extends her acting range here; her devoted fans won’t be remotely surprised. She is fascinating as the dad, a moustachioed lech with sloppy body language who’s itching to get laid by someone who isn’t his spouse.
How sloppy? He has a habit of brushing his crotch when peering from the boys’ locker room at the smiling gym teacher and the girls she’s coaching on the basketball court. “Selena”’s gossiping classmates know more about his sleazy antics than she does. An Oedipal triangle is developing—“Selena” can expect a double dose of pain.
His spouse, her mom, is played by Gomez in depressive Stepford Wife mode; she’s not unlike Mad Men’s bored housewife Betty Draper (January Jones). Her awareness of her husband’s lack of desire strikes a poignant note—her bright-red lipstick hints at desperation—and Gomez makes her sympathetic.
She also plays the flirtatious gym teacher, who has a full-on Farrah Fawcett hairdo and, potentially, the clay feet of an idol.
Peretz and his star charge the video with the kind of cryptic moments that have always provided music videos’ strongest narrative hooks.
When “Selena” dances sensuously alone in her room at night—a necessary release—she suddenly darts away from the window because someone has been watching her. The scene dovetails with the opening in which she’s cruised by the driver, whose identity is revealed just after the one-minute mark.
Poised between childhood and womanhood, and veering between extremes behaviorally, “Selena” is rendered extra-vulnerable by being constantly gazed at.
The video’s unselfconscious romantic fluidity makes it something special. It’s a melodrama with one (possibly two) same-sex attractions and one straight male/straight female dalliance. Since Gomez plays all the main characters, the story has the erotic overdetermination of a dream. (Sofia Coppola’s woozy The Virgin Suicides is a touchstone.)
It could literally be a dream—but, if so, was it experienced by “Selena” or Selena? Whoever it was—dream on. More please.