Small-town sentiment runs through “Our Very Own,” as does a sensitive if not fully developed dramatization of the downside of the American Dream. Tyro writer-director Cameron Watson is a native of his story’s setting of Shelbyville, Tenn., and an authentic sense of place — as well as a stirring performance by Allison Janney leading an impressive cast — aid an otherwise light and unresolved novelistic film. Distribs would have to count on smaller markets to bring in decent B.O., with ancillary providing long-term coin.
In 1978, the biggest local event in years is about to occur in Shelbyville: the return of native celebrity Sondra Locke to kick off the annual walking horse competition, for which burg is famed. Melora (Autumn Reeser) is beside herself with anticipation, and she tries to pass that excitement on to her tight circle of teen friends: Clancy (Jason Ritter), Bobbie (Hilarie Burton), Ray (Derek Carter) and Glen (Michael McKee).
Bobbie, on the other hand, is simply itching for nighttime action in Nashville, some 50 miles away.
But it’s Clancy who pic revolves around, as it becomes clear his family is teetering on the edge of disaster. While his father Billy (Keith Carradine) is making his unemployment worse by drinking, his mother Joan (Janney) strains to keep things together at home. Janney’s shock when movers come unannounced to repossess the family’s dining room set is the stuff of Arthur Miller tragedies.
What’s amazing about Janney’s portrayal is that this is only the beginning of what develops into one of the most fully realized female characters in recent American film. Just as the kids feel stuck in this place, so too do their parents — a realization that hits Joan like a bittersweet epiphany during a ladies’ town meeting with friend Sally (Cheryl Hines).
There’s more than enough movie with Clancy’s story, yet Watson can’t shake off the urge to cover his entire town, like an over-eager beat reporter. Thus, pic spends time with Melora prepping for a musical number she’s planning with Clancy and the gang, and with other characters.
Third act is burdened by a string of anticlimaxes that lead to an unfinished ending, but the actual stage act the kids put on perfectly captures the sincerity of a young amateur group giving it their all. Ritter (son of John) has much of his late father’s warmth, and his puppy-love interaction with the peppy Reeser quickens the film’s pulse.
Burton is like a Southern cousin of one of “American Graffiti’s” horny hotties, while McKee refuses to ham it up as a young man who doesn’t quite realize he’s gay. Carradine’s performance is effective, but too brief.Watson’s direction is as straight-ahead as can be, but the modest production demonstrates the visual bonus of shooting on film. Sight of the walking horse contest is quite novel for those who know nothing of the event, as is the appearance of Mary Badham — Oscar nommed as the young girl in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — in her first film role in 39 years.