Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Bobby Roth
prd Bobby Roth, Jeffrey White
with Anthony LaPaglia, Larsen Thompson, Sarah Carter, Barbara Williams, Melissa Macedo, Nighttrain Schickele, J August Richards, Ming-Na Wen, Anthony Azizi, Reed Diamond, Nestor Carbonell, Bruce Davison
release US 11.Aug.20
20/US 1h33

williams wen diamond

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lapaglia and thompson
This low-key drama features some momentous emotions and a darkly involving series of events. It's the usual tale of people forced to create a mismatched family with someone they only just found out about. And writer-director Bobby Roth uses a lot of obvious signposting, including the tired cliche of indicating depression by using alcohol or suicidal thoughts. Even so, most viewers will be unable to resist the sentiment.
A top student with a bright future, 16-year-old Pearl (Thompson) finds her life in ruins when her mother Helen (Carter) is violently murdered by an unhinged boyfriend (Carbonell). Helen had always told Pearl that her father died, but the family lawyer (Richards) reveals that he is actually the struggling filmmaker-musician Jack (LaPaglia). Pearl can't live with her boozy grandmother (Williams), so she moves in with Jack while they wait for the results of a paternity test. Of course, they clash over a number of things before eventually beginning to find a common ground.
Black-and-white flashbacks depict Jack and Helen's cute meeting in Paris, after which they develop a warm and somewhat cheesy romance while exploring the city, then return to Los Angeles where some ill-defined problems arise. Meanwhile in the present, Pearl and Jack butt heads over pretty much everything, but are clearly destined to become close friends, eliminating any suspense from the plot. An enjoyable range of supporting characters fills out the scenes, adding all kinds of enjoyable textures and sideroads. Although none of them seem to have a life of their own.

Thompson breathes some feisty energy into Pearl, a strong-willed teen with clear ideas about her life. Pearl's no-nonsense approach is sometimes annoyingly overconfident, but she's also smart, which is a refreshing touch. LaPaglia is scruffy and charming as a man whose life hasn't gone the way he wanted it to due to his hot temper and bad choices. While their interaction is prickly, it's clear that Pearl will give him a fresh perspective on himself, and maybe he can help her stop being so stubborn.

The film has a quiet, earthy pace, as these strangers work through some enormous personal issues, reluctantly getting to know each other while following the proscribed narrative formula. Roth stirs in a number of plot points that are realistic but heavy-handed, putting strains on various relationships. Meanwhile, Pearl and Jack find their way to a closer connection based on the fact that both loved and were loved by Helen. So even if the ending is painfully corny, it's also warm and moving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Aug.20

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