The proof's missing from the pudding in playwright David Auburn's writing-helming debut, "The Girl in the Park," a tonally disparate New York City-set pic that veers uneasily between melodrama and psycho-thriller.

The proof’s missing from the pudding in playwright David Auburn’s writing-helming debut, “The Girl in the Park.” Starring Sigourney Weaver as a grieving mother who never recovers her equilibrium after her young daughter goes missing on her watch, this tonally disparate New York City-set pic veers uneasily between melodrama and psycho-thriller. Soap opera-like situations, pedestrian dialogue and Weaver’s overwrought performance elicited snickers at the Toronto press showing, signaling that the title might be a hard sell.

A short prologue taps into every parent’s nightmare as jazz singer Julia (Weaver) momentarily turns her back on Central Park’s kiddie playground and cute toddler Maggie, clearly her preferred child, disappears. Pic then fast-forwards 16 years, establishing Julia as a high-level bank exec who follows a solitary and rigid routine.

Her son Chris (Alessandro Nivola), a successful builder, is celebrating his engagement to pregnant Celeste (Keri Russell) at a tony uptown do. Julia’s appearance there surprises former hubby Doug (David Rasche) since she’s long been absent from their lives. To Chris’ disappointment, however, she avoids meeting the bride-to-be.

Julia’s fragile veneer cracks when she helps shoplifter Louise (Kate Bosworth) avoid arrest. Something about the young woman’s vulnerability and wide eyes recalls her daughter. Quick to press an advantage, streetwise Louise suckers Julia out of $700.

The pic moves into psycho-thriller territory when Julia sees Louise at a bar, realizes she’s been had, and attacks her. Later, Julia stops by Central Park where Maggie disappeared and approaches little girls in an overly familiar manner.

Soon after, Louise weasels her way into Julia’s apartment. Julia’s ossified maternal instincts are released in a manic flurry of cooking, shopping, girl talk and over-protectiveness. When sluttily attired Louise heads out for the evening, Julia shrills, “Don’t you want to tell me what time you plan to be home?”

More ludicrously, Julia adopts some of Louise’s wild behavior, smoking up a storm and dropping in on a colleague (Elias Koteas) for late night sex.

Auds can see what Auburn was aiming for, but his portrait of grieving and wishful thinking doesn’t connect emotionally. He’s not helped by Weaver’s brittle, unsympathetic perf, which borders on caricature. Bosworth tries her best, but her character’s too extremely drawn. Nivola, Russell and Koteas are wasted in bit parts.

The tech credits are serviceable, with over-bright lighting and insistent score likening it to made-for-cable fare.

The Girl in the Park

Production

A Furst Films, Open Pictures production, in co-production with WITOX Filmproduktions, KG production, in association with RGM Entertainment, Oak3 Films. (International sales: QED Intl., Beverly Hills.) Produced by Sean Furst, Bryan Furst, Dale Rosenbloom. Executive producers, Devesh Chetty, David Chin, Robyn Gardiner, Christian Arnold-Beutel, Philip Fier. Directed, written by David Auburn.

Crew

Camera (color), Stuart Dryburgh; editor, Kristina Boden; music, Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Kelly McGehee; costume designer, Michelle Matland; sound (Dolby Digital), Stephen Barden, Richard Murray; associate producer, Shauna Phelan; assistant director, Adam Escott. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2007. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Sigourney Weaver, Kate Bosworth, Alessandro Nivola, Keri Russell, Elias Koteas, David Rasche, Joanna Gleason, Brendan Sexton III, Patricia Kalember.

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