Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blue Car

3/4

Starring: Agnes Bruckner, David Strathairn, Margaret Colin, Regan Arnold

Rated R for Sexual Content and Language

"Blue Car" is a sad movie about sad people.  They're struggling to make it through each day in one piece, but they have wounds so deep that it will take more than band-aids to fix them.  Each attempts to get out of their situation, but in doing so they inadvertently make things worse (both for themselves and each other).

Meg Denning (Bruckner) is a high school student in small town America.  Her dad up and left, leaving her mother Diane (Colin) to care for her and her younger sister, Lily (Arnold).  Diane works full time and is going to school in the evenings, which means that Meg has to babysit Lily.  Lily is extremely troubled; she's clinically depressed and cuts herself, and while Meg knows this, Diane doesn't know or (doesn't want to know).  Meg is in AP English, which is taught by Mr. Auster (Strathairn).  One day, she writes a poem about her father leaving that impresses him, and he thinks that she has a shot at winning a poetry contest in Florida.  He offers to help her work on it and in so doing, they grow closer.

"Blue Car" is one of those movies where the real drama takes place beneath the surface.  While there's plenty going on at face value, the most compelling material is what is expressed behind the words.  Subtext has always played a huge part in movies, but rarely is it as important as it is here.

Fortunately, writer/director Karen Moncrieff knows how to convey this without being too subtle and artsy or going overboard.  She strikes the correct balance on both a scripting and directing level; she requires her cast, especially Bruckner and Strathairn, to do a lot of acting with their eyes, so we know exactly what they are thinking.

The stunning performances of the two leads cannot be under-appreciated.  Both Bruckner and Strathairn do outstanding work.  Bruckner is in every scene, and in her first starring role she proves that she can carry a film as well as any seasoned professional.  She's your average teenage girl; intelligent and articulate, but reserved and rebellious.  I liked how she and Moncrieff didn't turn her into a caricature.  To her, poetry is a way of self-expression, not a lifestyle (she's not a hipster and you wouldn't find her at poetry slam).  David Strathairn is every bit her match, portraying a man whose passion and caring hide deep wounds and feelings that he knows are best unsaid.  Margaret Colin, best known for playing Jeff Goldblum's ex in "Independence Day" and Regan Arnold provide excellent support as Diane and Lily.

The film loses some of its effectiveness during the final third.  Moncrieff's grasp of subtext and non-vocal emotion lessens and I became unsure of why the characters were doing what they did.  At the same time. there are some scenes that have real power.  The film as a whole works more on a mental rather than an emotional level, but with a movie like this that's almost a blessing.  The ending leaves a few loose ends that I would have preferred to have seen tied up, but since it's easy to guess what happens, it's a small quibble.

"Blue Car" is not for everyone.  Some may be turned off by what happens in the final third, and while the film isn't coy, it's not graphic or exploitative.  It shows what it needs to then moves on.  But for those who enjoy these small, character-based dramas, it's worth seeing.

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