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Romance is the constant

Sexual orientation is, refreshingly, a non-issue in Helen Lesnick's gentle debut, 'A Family Affair.'

May 09, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Helen Lesnick's "A Family Affair" is a serious romantic comedy of such strength and substance and so entertaining that it doesn't matter that its minuscule budget shows around the edges. It's an impressive debut for actress Lesnick, who stars in her feature writer-director debut.

For 13 tumultuous years, Lesnick's dry-witted Manhattan freelance writer, Rachel Rosen, has been in an on-again, off-again romance with glamorous, capricious Reggie (Michele Greene), a Columbia professor of physics. With their latest breakup Rachel has decided she has had it with Reggie once and for all and heads to her parents' home in San Diego to begin a new life. The Rosens, Leah (Arlene Golonka) and Sam (Michael Moerman), are a loving, supportive couple active in PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, especially the outspoken and dynamic Leah. A Jewish mother -- but not a caricature -- Leah is eager to see her daughter settled down with a nice girl.

After a series of dating disasters, Rachel discovers that the young woman Leah lines up for her really is something. Erica Shaffer's Christine in fact proves almost too good to be true. She's a lovely blond, a massage therapist successful enough to afford a handsome home she is soon sharing with Rachel, who knows she has lucked out. That things are happening so quickly, with Christine full of talk about converting to Judaism and having a wedding with Rachel, overwhelms Rachel, triggering other long-buried issues of trust and loss; sexual orientation, refreshingly, is not among them.

Lesnick knows how to build her characters from within, and as a result this gentle film delivers an emotional wallop all the more potent for being unexpected. By the time "A Family Affair" is over it illuminates what makes for a full life with a maturity that is by any measure exceptional.

Lesnick is a strong, authoritative actress who knows how to draw solid support from her other key actors, including Barbara Stuart as Christine's elegant mother, who shows that an uptight WASP is not necessarily incapable of change. Especially strong is a life-transforming scene between Rachel and her father.

*

'A Family Affair'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Mature themes, some sensuality

Helen Lesnick...Rachel Rosen

Erica Shaffer...Christine Peterson

Arlene Golonka...Leah Rosen

Michele Greene...Reggie

Barbara Stuart...Sylvia Peterson

A Small Planet Pictures presentation. Writer-director-editor Helen Lesnick. Producer Valerie Pichney. Executive producers Helen Lesnick, Dolores Lesnick. Cinematographer Jim Orr. Music Natasha's Ghost: Kelly Neill, Bob Westlind, Danny De La Isla. Costume and production designer Lorrie Blackard. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, L.A., (323) 655-4010; Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811; and the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.

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