A pleasant surprise: “Committed” echoes some of the picaresque nuttiness and buoyancy of “Flirting With Disaster” while tagging along with a misguided but admirable heroine, a young woman named Joline who travels from Greenwich Village to El Paso, Texas, in hopes of salvaging her marriage.
Although the East-to-West itinerary and the theme of marital estrangement seem to reflect the “Disaster” influence, writer-director Lisa Krueger discovers a fresh comic emphasis and sustains consistently clever touches of characterization, local color and plot manipulation.
Miss Graham, the overexposed young actress cast as Joline, enjoys her first attractive role in some time to be precise, since she became typed as a precocious and confirmed slut in “Boogie Nights,” “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” “Two Girls and a Guy” and “Bowfinger.”
I was dreading the thought of anything else with Miss Graham, but “Committed” gave prejudice a bad name. Miss Krueger demonstrates a comic flair that I never would have anticipated from her first feature, “Manny & Lo.”
Sometimes the learning curve between first and second features jumps merrily off the chart. Add Lisa Krueger to the heartening list of auteurs who have made that leap.
She begins to achieve an enviable consistency in the wake of Joline’s discovery that she has been abandoned, without warning or adequate explanation, by her husband, Carl, a frustrated and dithering photographer played by Luke Wilson.
Expecting him home after an out-of-town assignment, Joline arrives to find a muddled farewell letter and a bouquet of daisies. In a moment of fury, she jams both into the blender and calms down as a greenish puree forms.
Joline, who tends bar in a Village nightclub, is given credit for powers of deduction that point in the direction of distant El Paso. An amusing intuitive element also reinforces her research: “It was one of those places lost people go to get more lost.”
An evenhanded, affectionate, dumbstruck system of mockery accompanies characters met in New York or Texas. There even is some witty cross-fertilization beyond Joline herself. Her kid brother Jay (Casey Affleck), a droney opportunist, is introduced as the roommate of two fuming lesbians in the Village.
Once Joline is relocated, staking out Carl in a mobile home on a dusty road, Jay reappears and lucks out with Carmen, the waitress Carl had been dating.
Since Joline makes her presence and mission known to Carl’s neighbors and acquaintances, if not Carl himself, she and Carmen, adorably played by Patricia Velasquez, become pals and confidantes.
Joline’s loyalty to her wedding vows is tested sorely by Goran Visnjic, the new heartthrob of “ER,” as a mannequin designer called Neil. He specializes in papier-mache pinata figures and lives near Carl. He tries to seduce Joline during her regular stakeouts.
Miss Krueger respects her protagonist enough to reserve Neil as a hopeful alternative in Joline’s future, after the incorrigible Carl disillusions her once and for all.
Some of Neil’s overtures are impressive, especially an interlude of almost touching, wittily synchronized to a background recording of “Wichita Lineman.”
RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting violence)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Lisa Krueger
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes