In the indie drama “Getting to Know You,” which is something of a cross between “Bus Stop” and “Scheherazade,” two teens pass the afternoon in an upstate New York bus terminal by trading sad, bleakly ironic yarns. How much of what is passed is true? Pic, taken from stories by Joyce Carol Oates, concludes that liberating “truth” often has little to do with an accurate recounting of facts. Though exceedingly well-crafted and performed, lack of marquee names and difficult material will limit playdates to specialty situations and cable.
Inspired by three stories from Oates’ “Heat” anthology, pic focuses on Judith (“Welcome to the Dollhouse’s” Heather Matarazzo) and Jimmy (Michael Weston), who meet at a bus station and exchange strategic portions of their pasts. Jimmy, a fast-talker, tells Judith they were classmates; she can’t recall meeting him. Skeptical but bored, Judith eventually falls under the spell of a traveler she suspects is going nowhere. After hearing Jimmy’s stories, Judith, against the wishes of her brainy older brother Wesley (Zach Braff), opens up about her less-than-idyllic family life.
On the sidelines, butting in and out of the action, are a number of bus-stop types, including a yammering bag lady (Celia Weston) and a paunchy cop (Bo Hopkins).
Jimmy’s first story involves lonely-heart Lynn (Sonja Sohn) on an Atlantic City weekend with her girlfriend (Tristine Skyler). The women meet a high-roller named Sonny (Chris North), who promises Lynn the moon when he’s winning. The second story, completely speculative, involves an infertile woman (Mary McCormack) who, out of desperation, marries a religious fanatic (Leo Burmester). This being Oates territory, both stories end badly.
Judith and brother Wesley’s hard luck backstory is revealed piecemeal throughout pic. Home life problems stem from irresponsible, self-obsessed parents, once semi-names on the ballroom circuit. Now past their prime, Trix (Bebe Neuwirth) and Darrell (Mark Blum) waltz from town to town, job to job, without weighing effects of nomadic life on their kids.
Fans of Oates and the critically acclaimed 1985 adaptation of her “Smooth Talk,” with Laura Dern and Treat Williams, will be right at home among these quietly desperate characters, who cling to whatever life lessons they can cull from horrid situations. That two out of three stories are lies is immaterial: They contain enough of the truth to cause obviously hurting Jimmy, in pic’s upbeat ending, to finally fess up to his own bleak history.
First-time feature helmer Lisanne Skyler, who co-scripted with sister Tristine, proves a talent to watch, especially in dealing with young thesps. Matarazzo, so good as the class misfit in “Dollhouse,” shows a considerably more sympathetic side here without limning Judith as stock victim. Weston’s cocky Pied Piper is, as he should be, hypnotic and pathetic. This is a newcomer to keep an eye on. Of large vet ensemble, Weston and Hopkins acquit themselves best.
Indispensable to the success of the parallel terminal/flashback worlds are contributions by production designer Jody Asnes, lenser Jim Denault (“Nadja”) and composer Michael Brook (“Affliction”), who supplies a Ry Cooder-like slide-guitar theme. Asbury Park, N.J., locations sub nicely for blue-collar neighborhoods in upstate New York.