Graced with good performances and a vivid take on how easy it is for teenagers to go wrong, "Double Parked" pays some dramatic fines for careening rather too freely and abruptly between comedy shtick and discomforting depictions of domestic abuse. Admirable for its clear-headed and unsentimental view of a mother's erratic effort to earn a living and raise a son against difficult odds in New York, Stephen Kinsella's debut feature copped the Moviemaker Breakthrough Award at Slamdance and may have some limited theatrical potential for a small distrib before pursuing a larger life on cable and video.

Graced with good performances and a vivid take on how easy it is for teenagers to go wrong, “Double Parked” pays some dramatic fines for careening rather too freely and abruptly between comedy shtick and discomforting depictions of domestic abuse. Admirable for its clear-headed and unsentimental view of a mother’s erratic effort to earn a living and raise a son against difficult odds in New York, Stephen Kinsella’s debut feature copped the Moviemaker Breakthrough Award at Slamdance and may have some limited theatrical potential for a small distrib before pursuing a larger life on cable and video.

Two-pronged dilemma faced by working-class mom Rita Ronaldi (Callie Thorne) is likely to register deeply with some viewers, particularly women: Having scraped by as a waitress for years and raised a boy, Matt (Rufus Read), who may be geeky but seems to have his head on straight, Rita now faces sudden unemployment and not knowing how to cope with her son’s perilous entry into adolescence.

While the feisty but unskilled Rita makes her increasingly frustrating rounds trying to find a new job, the bespectacled, asthmatic, rather chubby and square Matt comes under the sway of local tough Bret (Noah Fleiss), a cool customer making his third stab at sixth grade whose life is devoted to drugs, booze, sex and corrupting the younger kids in school.

What the viewer knows but Matt doesn’t is that Bret is actually Matt’s older half-brother; the father they share disappeared from Rita’s life a decade earlier but is now back in town and just as drunk, surly and violent as ever –a role model Bret is emulating perfectly. For a long time, Rita is simply too preoccupied to much notice what her boy is doing with his spare time, as he slowly becomes Bret’s spineless flunky.

There’s nothing wrong with the script’s structure, which parallels the mother and son’s activities and their occasional intersections, but the disparity of tone between the two story strains widens as the film progresses. Rita’s application for and, finally, winning of a job as a meter maid is treated in broadly comic terms, while her cautious romance with one of Matt’s teachers is handled in a conventional manner that eventually leads to outright melodrama.

By contrast, Matt’s descent into criminality with Bret and the kids’ frightful clash with their father are treated with a tart realism that brings into sharp focus both the reasons for Bret’s delinquency and the consequences of the boys’ derelict behavior. Ending hits a note of cautious optimism that feels right.

Previously, as director of commercials, the docus “Best Buddies” and “March in April” and the short “Never Look Back,” Kinsella showed energy and confidence behind the camera, but the picture is stronger the closer it sticks to the streets and raw emotions and the more it avoids routine dramatic crutches and forced comedy.

Thorne, best known for TV’s “Homicide,” reminds forcibly of Marisa Tomei both physically and in her brash, New York assertiveness; she does a great deal to keep the movie’s engine humming at high RPMs. As the punk in his early teens who’s taken charge of his life in a defiantly antisocial way, Fleiss (“Joe the King”) is uncannily authoritative and self-possessed. The role of Matt is more problematic, in that his relatively formless personality creates a void that dominates too much in the middle-going. On the one hand, his lack of definition makes him a plausible toady for Bret; on the other, his nature doesn’t follow very convincingly either from his mother or his hardscrabble youth.

Tech contributions are suitably functional.

Double Parked

Production

A Fierce Films presentation of a 44th Street Films production. (International sales: Fierce Films, New York.) Produced by Stephen Kinsella, Matthew Myers. Executive producer, Mark Montgomery. Directed by Stephen Kinsella. Screenplay, Kinsella, Paul Solberg, from a story by Kinsella.

Crew

Camera (Duart color), Jim Denault; editor, Seth E. Anderson; music, Craig Hazen, David Wolfert; production designer, Anthony Gasparro; art director, Elizabeth Sarkisian; costume designer, Monica Willis; sound (Dolby SR), Thomas Varga; supervising sound editor, Stephen Altobello; assistant director, Michael Lerman; casting, Adrienne Stern. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, March 11, 2000. (Also in Slamdance Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Rita Ronaldi - Callie Thorne Karl Severson - William Sage Bret - Noah Fleiss Matt Ronaldi - Rufus Read Warren - P.J. Brown Lola - Michelle Hurd Dolores Gonzalez - Eileen Galindo Angel Gonzalez - Anthony De Sando
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