“Grass, gas or ass—nobody rides for free,” seven-year-old Shell (Ava Acres) waxes precocious at the start of this autobiographical late-’70s period piece. Thirty-some-odd years later, the girl will grow up to be writer-director Shana Betz, but here, she’s simply the daughter of struggling single mom Christina (Anna Paquin, lacking Brockovichian scrappiness), who uproots Shell and teen sister MJ (Liana Liberato) from Ohio to Florida following a harrowing rough-up from a hotheaded boyfriend.
In pastel-hued Fort Lauderdale, Christina speedily works her way up from mansion maid to flourishing drug runner under the guise of supporting her kids, but the upward climb comes studded with strung-out parties and bikini-clad sails that leave said offspring fending for themselves. It’s in these parent-free gaps that the film becomes less a vehicle for Paquin or helmer Betz (too benign to critically sketch her criminal mother), and more one for Liberato. In between bizarrely low-octane moments of authorities circling the ring, the soulful up-and-comer crafts a far more perilous tale, one of a teenage caretaker getting a crash course in growing up too fast, too soon.
Follow Christina Izzo on Twitter: @christinalizzo