Recalling the ultra-earnest granola movies of Sundances past, “Evergreen” has so many requisite ingredients it’s like a humorless parody. Start with three generations of conflicting women (troubled teen, battered single mother, feisty immigrant grandmother), throw in a noble Native American and stitch it into a class-divide context of well-meaning poor folks and screwed-up rich ones. Tyro writer-director Enid Zentelis’ utterly prosaic drama about a girl ashamed of her poverty began as a Sundance Writer’s Lab project, and despite newcomer Addie Land’s sensitive performance, seems destined also to end its commercial path in Utah.
Retreating from an abusive relationship, Kate (Cara Seymour) takes her 14-year-old daughter Henri (Land) and moves back to the rundown shack of her old-world Latvian mother (Lynn Cohen). Kate gets a job in a make-up factory and strikes up a hesitant romance with gentle giant Jim (Gary Farmer), an Indian poker dealer in the local casino. Henri becomes involved with fellow high-schooler Chat (Noah Fleiss), who comes from the good side of town.
Keeping her dirt-poor situation hidden, Henri insinuates herself into Chat’s well-heeled family. As she does, she grows increasingly hostile to her mother. But closer acquaintance with Chat’s parents — an agoraphobic Stepford wife (Mary Kay Place) and a drunken flirt (Bruce Davison) — reveals their home to be less than ideal and pushes Henri to re-evaluate her own family and her place within it.
Zentelis based the screenplay on her own adolescent conflicts and, while there’s a certain tender sincerity to her lethargically paced storytelling, not a single development isn’t signposted in advance. Land gives the drama some poignancy, revealing the pain, anger, envy and longing of a girl burdened by life’s imbalances. But her character exists in a vacuum, surrounded by stock figures and unconvincing actors, Seymour in particular. Talented cast members Place and Davison seem uncomfortably stranded.
The Washington state locations provide striking settings but there’s little attempt to delineate visually between the town’s impoverished areas and its upscale suburbia. While it’s admirable that Sundance provides continuing support to the projects it fosters, the institution ultimately does its filmmakers a disservice by placing a work this bland in the glaring spotlight of competition.