At once a throwback to the days of Capra and Sturges and a wholly contempo item, "Snow Days" is smarter and more appealing than many other recent romantic comedies.

At once a throwback to the days of Capra and Sturges and a wholly contempo item, “Snow Days” is smarter and more appealing than many other recent romantic comedies. Cast consists mostly of young faces, with a few vets thrown in, Bernadette Peters prominent among them. Latter’s name, pic’s inherent charm and exhibitor-friendly length make “Snow Days” a natural for a specialized distributor looking to nurture fresh talent. It’s also a good bet that the film’s savvy creators, Adam and Kipp Marcus, will soon be touted as a filmmaking team to watch.

Investing the pic with a wry sensibility and a keen eye for the quirks in human behavior, helmer Adam Marcus (New Line’s “Jason Goes to Hell”) and brother scripter Kipp, late of “The New Leave It to Beaver” series, also throw in a few twists on the boy-meets-girl paradigm.

A tight seven-minute prologue provides all the exposition needed to understand James Ellis. As a boy, he watches his parents split up and his mother (Peters, never better) wade through a succession of suitors whom James collectively dubs the International House of Boyfriends. The clever use of subjective camera angles cements an early identification with young James (Kristopher Scott Feidel), whether he’s watching his mother make one mistake after another or listening to his Grammy (Judith Malina) warn him about love: “In this family,” she cautions, “the men leave and the women go crazy.”

A quick dissolve skips ahead 14 years to one magical snow day when James (Kipp Marcus) meets his neighbor Sarah Milson (newcomer Alice Dylan); they strike up an immediate friendship. With terrific economy, the film lays all of this out before the opening credits roll.

As best friends who see each other on breaks after she’s enrolled in a New York City college and he’s gone off to a culinary institute, Sarah and James are attracted to each other but cannot seem to move beyond friendship — until one night they stumble into their first kiss.

Later, thrilled and confused, she tests him with a misguided preemptive strike. The kiss was a mistake, she asserts falsely. Crushed, but anxious to comply, he agrees. When James tries to tell her what he really feels, it’s too late — Sarah has left to study in England — but he makes it his mission to win her back. Moving to Gotham, he spends his lonely evenings at a downtown club where victims of love share their tragic — and sometimes hilarious — tales.

There are delicious bits throughout the film, like a montage of James on the rebound dodging a succession of nutty girlfriends. Supporting parts are exceedingly well cast, including Henry Simmons as James’ best friend and David Deblinger as his boss. Tech elements are well above average for an indie pic, thanks in large part to the crispness and clarity afforded by shooting on 35mm stock.

Only toward the end does the “Capra-corn” flavor seem too sweet; pic loses a bit of its edge as it defies reason and rushes to find a way for Sarah and James to work things out. On the whole, however, “Snow Days” is a well-crafted, tautly edited and briskly moving ride.

Snow Days

Production

A Girl and Boy Prods. presentation of a Marcus Bros. production. Produced by Kipp Marcus. Executive producers, Donny Epstein, Yeeshai Gross. Directed by Adam Marcus. Screenplay, Kipp Marcus.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color), Ben Weinstein; editor, Joe Klotz; music, Sean McCourt; production designer, Melissa Schrock; costume designer, Bobby Pearce; associate producers, Gill Holland, Bill Migliore, Donald Donaudy Jr.; casting, Marci Phillips. Reviewed at AFI/L.A. Film Festival (New Directions), Oct. 24, 1999. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

James Ellis - Kipp Marcus Sarah Milson - Alice Dylan Elise Ellis - Bernadette Peters Mitch Jennings - Henry Simmons Beth - Miriam Shor Grammy - Judith Malina Wendell Milson - Larry Pine Patricia Milson - Debra Sullivan James at 4 - Kristopher Scott Feidel Psycho Boss - David Deblinger
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