New Zealander Rachel Douglas’ low-budget debut “Blessed” is a poor man’s “Magnolia,” ponderously reflecting on questions of sorrow, faith, ambition and compromise through a series of interconnected characters adrift in a small city. Failing to get under the skin despite its big themes, the ensemble drama’s flat direction, feeble performances and uninsightful script are likely to keep even festival bookings to a minimum, though women’s film roundups may partake.
Cosmic witness to the unhappy events and disconsolate fauna being depicted is a woman who flies over Wellington, her smiling serenity gradually eroded as she’s touched by the despair below. Douglas casts herself as a receptionist at a call-girl agency, where a student is shown the ropes by a jaded veteran and a housewife turns tricks to supplement her unaware husband’s meager earnings. One of her johns is a cynical cinematographer shooting a film about a hooker, played by a successful actress in an unsuccessful relationship. Douglas’ script underlines the need to recognize the good things and the moments of magic in a world of sadness. But the artless exercise feels contrived and dramatically unconvincing.