Directed by Jason Matzner. Starring Agnes Bruckner, Kelli Garner, John Corbett, Justin Long, Gina Gershon, Chris Mulkey. (2006, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
It’s got a good creative pedigree and confident execution – as well as nifty design, down to its Hammond-organ Photek soundtrack and desert chic – but this ensemble piece set in a rural mobile-home park steps off the trail into melodrama from time to time. First-time director Matzner’s assured visuals (shot by Jonathan Sela, videographer to J. Lo and La Lohan) create a shimmering, miragelike atmosphere of Big Sky, convenience stores, and cracked-leatherette shotgun seats – a refuge for broken-down people in the sun. Audrey (Bruckner) is a recent high school graduate living with her father (Corbett, who seems young for the part but is excellent), an agoraphobic widower who won’t leave the park. Audrey’s best friend (Garner), who has recently renamed herself Calista, has been arrested in girlhood by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis; she fantasizes about being Miss America and flounces around in a tiara and ball gown. Enter Mookie (Long), a college ballplayer with a blown-out knee and a retired rock & roll mom (Gershon, who ups the quirk as Twin Peaks bad guy Mulkey accompanies her on pedal steel). As they move in like the Joads, Calista sees Mookie first. But Audrey loves him, too, despite the ready attentions of a convenience-store beatnik (the fine Brian Klugman). The script (by Tom Willet, of The Cassidy Kids) is bigger-than-life at times – dangerous bees, boyfriend ex machina, voiced-over poetry, and a ball-gown Vespa accident to rival that of Wild Things 2 – and it’s probably meant more winkingly than Matzner renders it. Though its mood swings are too forcibly dramatic, the film’s emotional center is also very solid, with thoughtful meditation on Audrey’s role as community enabler. The performances are all fine, with Bruckner and Corbett the standouts as a parent and child with roles reversed after a death in the family. Bruckner has a starlet quality – she used to be on The Bold and the Beautiful – but she’s also very ordinary and authentically teenage, like Claire Danes as Angela Chase. Plain and conventional from some directions, and pretty from others – kind of like the movie itself.