Enid Zentelis' affecting and intimate "Evergreen" deals with family life and coming of age and is the kind of small, deeply personal American film that rarely surfaces even in art theaters these days. The usual route for an independently made first film like this is to go directly to cable after festival exposure and then the video store.
But AMC Film Group Chairman Dick Walsh was so impressed with it that it opens today at 115 AMC theaters nationwide.
"Evergreen" will be presented digitally, via the chain's Digital Theater Distribution System, which eliminates the need for the production and distribution of costly 35 millimeter prints. For low-budget independent filmmakers, a lot could be riding on the commercial fate of "Evergreen."
"Evergreen" is a worthy choice for the experiment. It is too adult for preteens in regard to sex, but it has an engaging realism and offers hope, at least for some of its people.
"Moving isn't so bad -- it gives you a chance to reinvent yourself," says Kate (Cara Seymour), a divorcee bravely trying, for her 14-year-old daughter Henri (Addie Land), to put the best face possible on the latest downturn in their fortunes. They in fact have no recourse but to return to Kate's hometown, a small city in Washington, where they will move in with Kate's widowed, Latvian-born mother (Lynn Cohen).
Kate fears that at school Henri will face the same prejudice that she did simply for being poor, but Henri is self-possessed, unworried and soon attracts the attention of Chat (Noah Fleiss), who must be at least 16 because he has a car of his own. What Henri is not prepared for is just how well-off Chat's parents are. Chat's parents, Susan (Mary Kay Place) and Frank (Bruce Davison) are welcoming and kind; in no time Henri is spending as much time as possible at Chat's home.
What Henri doesn't realize is that as kindly as Chat's parents are, behind a facade of pleasantries they are struggling with some overwhelming personal problems. Kate and her mother may be poor, even desperate, but they do not battle secret demons. Henri, who is so ashamed of the rundown appearance of her grandmother's house that she won't let Chat drive her home, has much to learn in order to see her life in perspective.
Jim (Gary Farmer), a Native American casino poker dealer, has known hard times but has always known who he is and has never been ashamed of himself. He has struck up an acquaintance with Kate, who has found work in a makeup factory, but their friendship is swiftly endangered by tensions developing between Kate and the increasingly absent Henri.
Zentelis sees these people as essentially well-meaning and cares for them so deeply that the feeling is contagious. She has an unpretentious, effortless style and is highly skilled with her first-rate cast. "Evergreen" represents a notable feature film debut for Addie Land, and Zentelis pulls off a scene of maternal self-sacrifice, beautifully played by Seymour, that recalls Barbara Stanwyck's best moments in "Stella Dallas."
Mainstream moviegoers at their local AMC willing to stray from Hollywood fare may find themselves pleasantly surprised.
MPAA rating: PG-13 on appeal for sexual content involving teens and for language
Times guidelines: Too adult for preteens
Mary Kay Place...Susan
An AMC Theaters release of a Salty Features, Granny Was an Outlaw and Straw Stories production. Writer-director Enid Zentelis. Producers Norma Jean Straw, Enid Tihanyi Zentelis, Yael Melamede, Eva Kolodner. Executive producers Evan R. Bell, Gary Sharfin, Bill Pope, Cheryl L. Pope, Scott Rosenfelt. Cinematographer Matthew Clark. Editor Meg Reticker. Music John Stirratt, Patrick Sansone. Costumes Lorna Leedy. Production designer Kate Rielly. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
In general release at AMC Theaters.