(R) 4 stars Life is going pretty bad for just-turned-18-year-old Meg (Agnes Bruckner, actually 17). Her parents are divorced and Mom (Margaret Colin) comes home each day from her lousy job stressed out and ready to snap. Meg understands how her mother feels, but when the yelling starts, that doesn’t matter. Meg just grows more desperate and defiant.
If her relationship with Mom is bad, her dealings with her younger sister, Lily (Regan Arnold), are worse. Depressed and furious, Lily is on a hunger strike. Not an eating disorder hunger strike — hers is a life and death one. Even creepier, Lily cuts herself.
Meg writes to express herself and she has found a mentor. Mr. Auster (David Strathairn), her 54-year-old English teacher at high school, appreciates her poetry and believes she may be good enough to travel to Florida for the finals of a national poetry competition. When tragedy strikes at home, he is there for her, a surrogate father who challenges her, but also offers emotional support. Mom doesn’t have enough money to pay for Meg to make the trip, but the girl will find a way. She will get to Florida, she will see him and his family there, and she will prove that he was right to believe in her. But poetry isn’t all Mr. Auster wants from Meg.
Blue Car, an auspicious writing and directing debut from Karen Moncrieff, is a difficult film to sit through. After the press screening, I lingered with several other guys, dumbstruck. I was so uncomfortable that I blurted out, “Who is this movie for? Who in the world would want to pay money to end up feeling like this?”
The answer is: anyone who savors powerhouse filmmaking and, more importantly, parents and teen-agers, together. Don’t be worried by the R-rating, it is an overreaction from the ratings board. I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but parents and their older children need to see a realistic look at material like this. Parents need to see how their kids can spin away when they are too preoccupied, or angry, to be attentive and supportive. Kids need to understand that, sadly, some of the most effective predators lurk within the ranks of caregivers. Adults will be asked, “Well, who can I trust?” Working out that answer will bring you closer.
Oh, and while the entire cast is strong, the lead performances of David Strathairn and Agnes Bruckner are stunning. So is Blue Car.