“I need a game,” Kailey (Janssen) says, shuddering as if she meant a fix or a stiff drink. Pool hustling is her profession, and what the lanky, troubled heroine of Chris Eigeman’s directorial debut requires more than anything is cash and competition. That, and the love of her 12-year-old son (Dorman), whom she’s forced to see on the sly because of a restraining order mandated by her ex-husband. If Kailey ponies up some dough, she can hightail it with her boy to Canada. With the help of a crusty billiard-hall owner (Torn), this desperate shark tries to raise her stake.
What Eigeman needs is a stronger sense of style and storytelling if he wants to elevate the material past the stock indie-miserabilism mark. An actor whose urbane dryness was a perfect fit for Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach, the neophyte writer-director deserves credit for tackling a genre outside his comfort zone. But his supporting characters barely qualify as sketches—Torn’s father figure might as well be called Irascible Old Fart—and several touches, such as a climactic flashback, are true head-scratchers. As for Janssen, her performance veers between genuine maternal intimacy and the sort of forced slumming used by beautiful actors who want you to take them seriously.