Inspired by the helmer's own experiences as a cult member, first-time feature director Alison Murray's "Mouth to Mouth" emerges an uneven, occasionally vivid, ultimately unsatisfactory treatment of themes that should've packed more punch. Unlikely to make much of a dent theatrically, pic looks more viable as a small-screen item.

Inspired by the helmer’s own experiences as a cult member, first-time feature director Alison Murray’s “Mouth to Mouth” emerges an uneven, occasionally vivid, ultimately unsatisfactory treatment of themes that should’ve packed more punch. Meandering tale of an unhappy teen’s sojourn around Europe with a fanatical youth group resorts to stock melodrama in its ill-conceived last act. Unlikely to make much of a dent theatrically, pic looks more viable as a small-screen item.

Sherry (Ellen Page) is a seemingly rootless adolescent drifting through Berlin when she chances upon a band of young misfits, Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge (Spark). Group’s agenda is a bit vague, but members’ immediate skill at getting at-risk, runaway and otherwise messed-up kids off drugs and off the street impresses.

Even more appealing to the alienated protag is the group’s evident fun, inclusiveness and mutual support. Better still, it exists outside the rules of mainstream society (and parents). On impulse, Sherry hops in the van now headed to Portugal. A bit taken aback at first, she soon learns the ropes of the group’s marginal lifestyle (Dumpster-diving for food, etc.) while getting to know her multinational fellow travelers — most of whom suggest histories considerably more precarious than the one she’s escaping.

Among them are spazzy Mad Ax (Maxwell McCabe Lokos) and sexually boastful Nancy (Beatrice Brown), who become Sherry’s best friends; medically trained Dog (Diana Greenwood), a stabilizing influence; cute German guy Tiger (August Diehl), who’d flirtatiously caught Sherry’s attention; and shaven-headed, burly Harry (Eric Thal), the group’s 30-ish elder and de facto leader.

Despite Spark’s communal-anarchist ideals, Harry often pulls rank with bullish authority. The first discordant note comes with his unfeeling response to an accidental death.

Meanwhile, Sherry has been pursued — after a fashion — by her single mother, Rose (Natasha Wightman), a willowy Earth goddess who means well but has always been too self-centered to make a good parent. She seeks reconciliation, but both parties are too prickly and oblivious to one another’s needs. Worse, Sherry is horrified to discover a rebellious teen’s worst nightmare unfolding before her: Mom is lauded as a “cool” grown-up, possibly romanced by Harry, and finally accepted as a full-on member.

Tensions begin to boil over. A potent (if not entirely credible) new low occurs when Harry not only deflowers one character, but publicly humiliates her. Ensuing punishment is a harbinger to later, predictable tragedy.

Helmer-scenarist Murray has the raw materials for a strong narrative. But pic emerges somewhat shapeless, overemphasizing long, indulgent, improvisational sequences while devoting too little attention to character development and overall rhythm. Her background in choreography is evident in odd moments when the casts break into tepid interpretive dance moves, a device that doesn’t mesh with the otherwise gritty, realistic location lensing and atmosphere. Perfs are decent but hemmed in by a haphazard script.

Mouth to Mouth

England-Germany

Production

An Egoli Tossell Films, M2M Films production in association with Hellhound. Produced by Anne Beresford, Judy Tossell. Executive producer, Atom Egoyan, Simone Urdl. Directed, written by Alison Murray.

Crew

Camera (color), Barry Stone; editor, Christian Lonk; music, Rowan Oliver; music supervisor, Lisa Chandler; production designer, Ulrika Andersson; art director, Astrid Poeschke Bergan; costume designer, Jemima Cotter; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Frank Kruse; choreographer, Murray; assistant director, Dylan Gray. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki, San Francisco, April 6, 2005. (In S.F. Intl. Fest). Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Harry - Eric Thal Sherry - Ellen Page Rose - Natasha Wightman Tiger - August Diehl Mad Ax - Maxwell McCabe-Lokos Nancy - Beatrice Brown Dog - Diana Greenwood Blade - Jefferson Guzman

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