Grieving the loss of her problematic father, a young Los Angeles woman drifts into an even more turbulent relationship with a homeless addict in “Other People’s Children.” For a while, this earnest drama doesn’t articulate its characters’ psychologies enough to make that situation particularly compelling, or convincing, though Adrienne Harris’ script is handled with some skill by debuting feature helmer Liz Hinlein. But ultimately there’s an intriguing arc here that rewards patience. The film opened Jan. 1 at New York’s Village East Cinemas, with a digital launch following Jan. 5. Co-star Chad Michael Murray’s visibility from various TV series (notably “One Tree Hill”) should give it some leverage as a small-screen item.
Samantha (Diane Marshall-Green) has fallen off the map for four months following the death of her famous, hot-tempered painter father (Scott Patterson), whom she’d been trying to film for a documentary project. When she resurfaces, flatmate Josh (Michael Mosley) has moved out of their apartment and into coupledom with mutual pal Ariel (Alexandra Breckenridge), though there seem to be unresolved romantic issues between him and Sam. Ariel and Josh are appalled when Sam’s emotional escapism turns from reckless partying to a dicey involvement with P.K. (Murray), a handsome live-wire squatting with a group of “street kids” (though they’re all fully adult) in an empty warehouse.
Apparently good sex aside, the attraction is a bit vague, if only because Sam herself is something of a blank. When the police start sniffing around the kids’ squat, she invites them to stay with her, though unsurprisingly this soon turns out to be a bad idea as things rapidly spiral out of control. P.K.’s demons won’t stay reined in for long, and his friends have few compunctions about exploiting their hostess’s generosity.
The gist of a person seeking love and stability, yet instead haplessly re-creating a dysfunctional formative relationship, is a frequent real-world scenario, one too seldom meaningfully explored in drama. But “Other People’s Children” ekes mixed results from an intriguing premise. (Another 2015 indie debut, Marya Cohn’s “The Girl in the Book,” provides a more revealing sketch of another artistically inclined protagonist laboring to escape the overbearing shadow of her high-profile male mentors.) Sam’s interviews with various street people seem a trite, touristy walk on the wild side — the movie notes the occasional resentment of her subjects, yet their stories feel canned, and the actors sometimes don’t seem authentic enough.
Still, there’s a poignancy and sincerity in how close the lead characters come to “rescuing” each other that lends the film a rooting interest. That element clashes interestingly with the heroine’s psychological menage a trois with besties Josh and Ariel, which sometimes seems to be taking place in a different, more authoritatively penned movie. The resolution is a little underwhelming, but you can’t fault Hinlein and Harris for failing to stick to their guns: Overall, their storytelling grows more purposeful and confident in the film’s last third.
Murray committedly creates an interesting, mercurial character, but the movie can’t quite decide how raw to make P.K. He’s part realistic bundle of hard-living problems (especially self-loathing), part homeless Prince Charming. A well-played late revelation changes our perception of him, though it’s strangely redolent of those 1920s films and stage musicals in which the climactic plot twist goes like this: “Really, you’re an aristocrat posing as a modest secretary?! Amazing, because I am in fact not a bellboy but an heir to millions!” Marshall-Green doesn’t quite bring her protagonist into relatable focus, though supporting performances are generally strong.
Tech and design aspects are nicely turned.