Mason Mullich (Kartheiser) has the kind of sizable problems that dwarf the mundane concerns of the average angst-ridden teen. His mom (Winningham) is a pill-popping lush who can't seem to pull the family together. His social circle consists of several bullies, and his best friend is a deadbeat stoner with wavering loyalties. Then his willingness to take the blame for a careless act committed his uncommunicative dad (Howard)—a grain-factory worker obsessed with running a campaign for city council—lands him in juvie for two years. And we haven't yet gotten to the film's biggest tragedy. Understandably, Mason claims he doesn't believe in love ("something we create to make ourselves feel better"), but he soon finds companionship with new-girl-in-town Danny (Manning). Danny has parental troubles of her own, namely an overly critical mother who is paranoid that her daughter will get knocked up and dumped.
Mark Milgard's intimate drama explores two well-worn subjects—the adolescent search for authenticity and isolation in rural America—without coming across as mawkish, thanks in part to Kartheiser's ability to transcend the quirky-loner clich. But most of the credit goes to Tim Orr's rich cinematography, which poetically mines the Pacific Northwest and gives depth and grace to what could have been trite.—Erin Clements