Writer-director Wendell Jon Andersson shows an impressive command of technique in his feature directorial debut, “With or Without You,” a youth melodrama revolving around two twentysomething students whose lives change as a result of an unwanted pregnancy. Though crisply shot and smoothly edited, script , which was developed at the Sundance Institute, is bogged down by stereotypical portrayal of some of the main characters, ultimately giving the impression that the tale is not much more than an updated version of ’50s American movies about rebellious, misunderstood kids. A niche movie with strong appeal to young viewers, pic may achieve limited theatrical distribution in select markets.
Yarn begins with a steamy sex scene between Alex (Kristoffer Winters) and Zoe (Marisa Ryan), at the end of which she shockingly informs him that this is their last meeting because old b.f. James (Dylan Roy), with whom she’s infatuated, is back from Europe. Deeply hurt, Alex declares love, claiming that, though he knew there was another man in the background, their six-week affair represented much more than sex to him.
The couple separate, but, surrounded by mutual friends, they keep running into each other. Alex observes with anger and jealousy how Zoe is mistreated by her lover in public. Heartbroken, he confides his feelings to his close friend Misha (Rachel True), who works with him at a coffee shop, while he avoids his eccentric roommate, Harold (Jim Lichtscheidl), an obnoxious nudge.
Things change when Zoe discovers she is pregnant and is unsure whether to keep the baby. Told he’s the father, Alex becomes even more committed to her, willing to establish a family. The ensuing melodrama details how the two immature youngsters are forced into an uneasy, unconventional relationship, with neither knowing what to expect.
Plot contains enough twists and turns to make it engaging for a while, though writing is decidedly uneven. Meller’s one-dimensional characterizations – roomie Harold, Zoe’s shrill, manipulative mother and others – violate the fresh, original pitch of the other figures. Though intended as an honest chronicle of self-discovery and maturation, pic is marred by quite a few scenes whose jokey tone and caricatures feel like something out of a TV sitcom.
Nonetheless, even when “With or Without You” begins to falter, as it does in its later sections, Andersson’s touch remains steady, giving the film an undeniable urgency and contempo feel and look, immensely assisted by Gregory M. Cummins’ sharp lensing and Michael Windemacher’s vibrant score.
Ryan, who made a strong impression in “Love Always” and “Slaves to the Underground,” is a gifted thesp, but she tends to overact here, her mannerisms making Zoe seem even harsher and more self-absorbed than she must have been on the page. Well cast, Winters is credible as the kind, romantic idealist, willing to pursue the dictates of his heart beyond any rational calculations.
Pic’s real discovery is the gorgeous True, who has previously appeared in “The Craft” and a number of indies, most recently Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere.” With her lovely presence and interesting voice, True seems ready to assume her position in the forefront of young leading ladies.