- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

The new indie film “Evergreen” wants entry into the dramatic subgenre of teen girls gone wrong, whose standouts include 2002’s “Blue Car” and last year’s “Thirteen.”

Those dramas gave us something “Evergreen” rarely does, a female protagonist worth all the fuss.

What “Evergreen” nails is the frazzled single mother, played with understated panic by Cara Seymour. She may be overwhelmed, but her heart is big enough to keep her daughter out of harm’s way.

Young Henri (newcomer Addie Land) begins rebelling when she learns she and her mother, Kate, are moving in with her grandmother to help make ends meet.

Henri’s an old pro at shuffling from one town to another as her mother’s resources dwindle, but sharing a makeshift bed is another matter.

It doesn’t help that Henri soon meets a handsome schoolmate named Chat (Noah Fleiss), who may or may not have her best interests in mind.

Chat’s family sure seems kind, though, and they live in a house that dwarfs Henri’s temporary home.

Henri swiftly bonds with Chat’s mother (Mary Kay Place, whose sunny smile hides her agoraphobia) but sees little of Chat’s father (Bruce Davison), who finds solace at the local casino, where an American Indian named Jim runs a tight table. Jim happens to be dating Henri’s mother, a complicated relationship that begs for more screen time.

We expect the shiny veneer of Chat’s family to suffer cracks along the way, but when the dam inevitably breaks, the results are far less tragic than expected. And the fissure casts Henri in a somewhat intolerant light just at the moment we’re supposed to rally around her.

Director Enid Zentelis’ first theatrical feature reveals her to be a cautious observer who needs to dig deeper into her subject matter. “Evergreen’s” central conceit — life at home isn’t nearly as painful as it appears — barely sustains the film’s bloated 85-minute running time, and the final message we’re left with isn’t as tightly constructed as necessary.

Her camera placement is simple but shrewd, to be sure, and she juggles her cast to reap the most from her undisciplined narrative.

Young Addie captures the disillusionment of the poor girl stuck in an upper-middle-class school, but at times her acting boils down to wringing her hair with her fingers and casting moist glances at those around her.

“Evergreen” is not without its poignant set pieces. Watching Kate apply makeup to a distraught Henri teems with tenderness and shame. And Gary Farmer’s Jim provides a moral touchstone the rest of the film demands. Sure, he’s proud, but he’s also vain and short-tempered in weaker spells. Ultimately, he accepts Kate’s flaws with a grace that touches her deeply.

If only we invested more of our emotions in “Evergreen’s” central character rather than just its strong supporting cast.

***

WHAT: “Evergreen”

RATING: PG-13 (Harsh language and sexual situations involving teenagers)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Enid Zentelis. Cinematography by Matthew Clark.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

WEB SITE: www.evergreenthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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