A terminally quirky indie dramedy, “Bottled Up” risks trivializing prescription drug abuse in service of a trite middle-age romance. Fine actors including topliner Melissa Leo can’t disguise the fundamentally weak material of writer-director Enid Zentelis, delivering her sophomore feature nearly a decade after her poverty drama “Evergreen” debuted in competition at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Following a premiere at Tribeca last year, “Bottled Up” is set for a quiet Feb. 28 launch on VOD and limited theatrical release via upstart Paragon Pictures, a partnership between Freestyle Digital Media and Osiris Entertainment.
If the film merits any attention at all, it’s exclusively for the involvement of Leo, who remains committed to balancing supporting roles in high-profile films like last year’s “Prisoners” and “Olympus Has Fallen” with leading turns in smaller projects — though her commendable dedication makes it all the more unfortunate when one of those little star vehicles breaks down. The resourceful thesp does what she can with the character of Fay, a single woman of a certain age whose grown daughter, Sylvie (Marin Ireland), still lives at home and has acquired an addiction to painkillers in the aftermath of a minor car crash. Sylvie knows how to manipulate Mom better than anyone, and Fay is a classic enabler, putting her daughter’s happiness ahead of everything else.
Their mother-daughter dynamic is so one-sided that when Fay meets kindly store clerk Becket (Josh Hamilton) while shopping for tropical plant food, she immediately plots to set him up with Sylvie. But earnest tree hugger Becket recognizes a kindred spirit in Fay despite their age difference, and throws the older woman for a loop with a series of romantic gestures. He even agrees to Sylvie’s proposed road trip to Canada, where she intends to score cheap and legal drugs, simply to spend time with Fay. Becket’s devotion forces Fay to reassess whether her coddling is helping or hurting Sylvie, and sets up a climactic emotional showdown among all three principles at a border checkpoint.
The mixed blessing here is that Zentelis landed a cast strong enough to mine riches from the script’s thorny relationships, only to sabotage their efforts with an overdose of quirky affectations. Fay, whose face is constantly obscured behind droopy bangs signifying her shyness, works at a shop called Mailboxes and Thangs, which supplements packaging materials with body piercings and doughnuts; Sylvie runs a nominal at-home daycare for a pair of precocious moppets and demonstrates a complete lack of social skills once Becket begins renting a room from Fay; and Becket might as well be a right-wing caricature of a liberal activist, given the utterly unconvincing nature of his feeble protests and counterculture observations. Although likely meant as whimsical touches to lighten the mood of what might otherwise be a somber drama, Zentelis’ consistently wobbly execution simply leads to tonal discord.
Through sheer force of personality, Leo scores some affecting moments as Fay slowly opens up to her own needs and desires, but never fully sparks with Hamilton, who remains hampered by a thankless and rather ridiculous role. Ireland makes a valiant struggle to modulate a cliched, feckless addict character who herself is something of a pill.
Wan tech package betrays the film’s modest budget.