Modest coming-of-age film packs a wallop because the crises in the life of its young protagonist turn out to really matter. With Katharine Ross and Patricia Kalember adding some marquee value, this Massachusetts-based film should click on the fest circuit, and has strong possibilities for specialized bookings as well.
Nora (Stephanie Castellarin in a remarkable performance) is a 12-year-old Catholic girl growing up in a small Massachusetts town in 1963. Her mother (Kalember) is having a nervous breakdown, under the ever-present shadow of three children who died in a car accident before Nora was born. On the day President Kennedy is assassinated, Nora comes home to discover that her mother has attempted suicide.
Forced to grow up all too quickly, Nora is first sent to live with her proper, somewhat brittle aunt (Ross), and then returns home to help her father take care of her two younger siblings. All she wants is a “normal” family life and to enjoy being on the cusp between childhood and womanhood, but her only role models are her suicidal mother and her cold aunt. Her father (Brian Delate) tries his best, but it’s not enough.
First-time writer-director Maureen Foley has written a strong script with believable characters. Setting the story in 1963 allows her to suggest a time before the country lost its innocence, contrasting that with Nora’s own loss of innocence.
Though it could use a little judicious editing to pick up the pace, pic works through understatement and an accumulation of small but telling moments. The human side of the strict nun (Helen Lloyd Breed) who teaches Nora is first indicated in a brief scene in which she disciplines some boys sneaking a cigarette, and then lingers to inhale a whiff of smoke.
Performances are all on the mark, with Ross returning to the bigscreen for her first role in several years. Best of all is the discovery of Castellarin in the lead, who manages to balance the maturity and childishness of her character with seeming ease.
Tech credits are solid, adding to film’s professional polish.