Opens Fri May 30
At the beginning of Blue Car, high school student Meg (Agnes Bruckner) reads one of her poems to her AP English class. It's a good poem--full of melancholy reflections and lyrical imagery and all the crap the coffee shop crowd gets flustered and gushy over--but it's also just melodramatic enough to start up the class dickhead: "Aww, boo-hoo-hoo," he whines. Immature? Sure. A fairly accurate assessment of the film as a whole? Yep.
As Meg does her whole gifted-but-troubled young writer thing and scrawls away in her notebook (which, post-Wonder Boys and 8 Mile, is something that can't help but feel somewhat cliché), she catches the eye of her teacher, Mr. Auster (David Strathairn). Recognizing her gift for writing (and, of course, her barely legal bod), Auster offers to help Meg with her poetry after class. Cue Auster spouting a whole lot of Writing 101 tripe. He encourages Meg to enter one of her poems into a national contest, and Meg finally finds someone in whom she can confide. They grow closer and yeah, three guesses as to how the relationship develops.
Initially, Blue Car feels intensely real, with well-rendered characters and believable situations. Particularly interesting is Meg's fractured family life: With her struggling single mother (the surprisingly good Margaret Colin, whose most recognizable role until now was a bit part in Independence Day); her severely depressed little sister (the perfect, creepily adorable Regan Arnold); and the lingering presence of her absent father, Meg's home life is subtly realistic and touchingly portrayed.
But once Meg's relationship with Auster develops and the focus of the plot shifts, the film begins to feel contrived, characterizations are stretched too far, and the whole story gets pretty maudlin. Still, both Strathairn and Bruckner are excellent, and Karen Moncrieff's direction and pacing are sure and deliberate. In a technical sense, the film is nearly flawless; it's only when the time comes for any emotional payoff that the story feels at once heartfelt and manipulative--kind of like a tearjerker written by a high school girl.