Illness and disability have long been a fascination of girls' literature: Author Lurlene McDaniel made a career of killing off diseased teenagers. Katy Carr fell off a swing and into a character-building paralysis in What Katy Did. And Beth March never did recover from that scarlet fever. But while they don't always survive their afflictions, the girls in these books were always improved by them, becoming stronger, kinder, and better.

This adolescent, illness-can-only-make-you-stronger-or-sometimes-kill-you approach is on abundant display in Mary Stuart Masterson's directorial debut, The Cake Eaters—not merely because a young disabled girl is a main character, but because the girl's condition exists only as a narrative foil, a figurative pommel horse to be vaulted in a triumphant handspring of the spirit.

The girl doing the metaphoric vaulting is actress Kristen Stewart, who's best known for her role as vampire-bait Bella in Twilight, and presumably is the only reason this trivial little film received any kind of distribution. Stewart plays Georgia, who's afflicted with a fatal, degenerative nerve disorder that causes her to constantly tremble and occasionally fall down. The grim set of Stewart's mouth as she struggles to navigate a room on her own is our only hint that this condition is anything more than an excuse for Georgia to cling to the arms of nearby young men, namely Beagle (Aaron Stanford), with whom she's decided to lose her virginity.

The idea of a terminally ill teenager who's powerfully interested in sex is a compelling one—but Jayce Bartok's script is so stiff that not even a terrifically fierce performance by Stewart generates sufficient interest. The framework is here, but the human details—the ones that might make this story into something more than just one more quirky indie dramedy—aren't.