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Your Guardian

The unfortunate opening night choice for this year's Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, writer-director Kari Nevil's "Your Guardian" is an utterly muddled seriocomedy that seems to be missing major chunks -- in the realm of basic character and story development, just for starters. At least one hopes they're missing: If this was what Nevil had in mind, audience comprehension clearly wasn't a priority. Fuzzy mix of undercooked whimsy, vague emotional "issues" and many filler montages (mostly of the pensive-walk-on-the-beach-to-sensitive-pop-tune ilk) desperately needs an editorial overhaul -- if not extensive rewriting/reshooting as well -- to achieve even marginal commercial viability.

With:
With: Irene Bedard, Chad Lowe, Leann Hunley, Jeannetta Arnette, Stephen Heath, Claire Dunlap, Richard Feld, Callum Grant, Will Radford, Jodean Lawrence.

The unfortunate opening night choice for this year’s Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, writer-director Kari Nevil’s “Your Guardian” is an utterly muddled seriocomedy that seems to be missing major chunks — in the realm of basic character and story development, just for starters. At least one hopes they’re missing: If this was what Nevil had in mind, audience comprehension clearly wasn’t a priority. Fuzzy mix of undercooked whimsy, vague emotional “issues” and many filler montages (mostly of the pensive-walk-on-the-beach-to-sensitive-pop-tune ilk) desperately needs an editorial overhaul — if not extensive rewriting/reshooting as well — to achieve even marginal commercial viability.

Irene Bedard (“Smoke Signals,” “Pocahontas”) plays Katherine, a 30ish stage designer who’s left her native Reno in search of … um, “herself,” fulfillment, or something. This quest lands her in Princeton, a fictive Northern California coastal town where everybody seems to be on the payroll of Tanna (Leann Hunley). Latter takes a shine to Kath, hiring her to help mount the town’s annual fair.

Mostly Kath mopes in her room, however, when not mixing with fellow misfits like winsome child-man Michael (Stephen Heath); his alcoholic mother Lillian (Jeannetta Arnette); and “local heartthrob” Parker (Chad Lowe), a musician with whom Kath strikes up a tentative romance. There’s also Madeleine (Claire Dunlap), a mysterious elderly sprite who interpretive-dances around.

Undercooked scenario makes faint gestures toward ye olde Wounded Inner Child — Kath is parentless, and Bedard plays her like an overgrown, sulking Little Match Girl — as well as magical Earth Motherhood and “healing the past” through “alternative” family arrangements. But even these themes barely register; Princeton’s “Dysfunction Junction” (as one resident all-too-aptly puts it) is ill-defined on every level.

Character backstories and personal problems are left undeveloped, when not blank; cloying supernatural overtones lead nowhere; wrap in which Kath finds a “mom” at last hinges on a completely arbitrary “coincidence.”

Plot advances so haplessly, with so many filler segs (set to lame soft-rock tunes) between weakly written/staged dialogue scenes, that it’s hard to believe script was shot in its entirety. Story and pacing continuity are M.I.A., while performers overact in the absence of clear motivation and directorial focus.

Adding to generally silly air, these funky “rural” types often look like they’ve just limo’d up from Beverly Hills; Bedard wears clingy little evening dresses even to do some afternoon sketching on a tree branch. Tech aspects, in line with prod in general, are routine to slapdash.

Your Guardian

Production: A Junebug Films production in association with Your Guardian. Produced by Sally Wood Williams, Susan England, Kari Nevil. Executive producers, Adrianna Pope, Elizabeth Tidmarsh Conely. Directed, written by Kari Nevil.

Crew: Camera (color), Andrew Andersen; editor, Joe Bini; music, Kevin Hedges; sound designer, David Nelson; casting, Rene Haynes. Reviewed at Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, Feb. 22, 2001. Running time: 83 MIN.

With: With: Irene Bedard, Chad Lowe, Leann Hunley, Jeannetta Arnette, Stephen Heath, Claire Dunlap, Richard Feld, Callum Grant, Will Radford, Jodean Lawrence.

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