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    Mother and child disunion

    "Evergreen," a well-intentioned story of an exceedingly poor mother and daughter falling apart while trying to pull themselves together, seems clumsy in its attempts to dramatize the difference between wealth and poverty.


    (Originally reviewed at the NY/Avignon Film Festival in April 2004.)

    "Evergreen" is the kind of low-budget independent movie that you see hoping for greatness — and you leave a little let down.

    Written and directed by: Enid Zentelis.
    Cast: Cara Seymour, Mary Kay Place, Noah Fleiss, Gary Farmer, Lynn Cohen, Addie Land, Bruce Davison.
    Cinematography: Matthew Clark.
    Edited by: Julie Carr, Meg Reticker.

    Related links: Official site
    AMC Empire 25 234 West 42nd St.

    NY/Avignon Film Festival
  • Overview

  • American Beer
  • Easy
  • Evergreen
  • Haute Tension
  • The story opens with mother Kate and teenage daughter Henri arriving in the run-down town outside Seattle where Kate grew up. Her elderly mother still lives in a barely-standing four-room house where water drizzles from the ceiling during the frequent rains and only the memory of paint still sticks to the walls. Kate plans to get a job and get back on her feet. "There's really only two places to work in this town — the makeup factory or the toilet paper factory," she tells her daughter, and off to the makeup factory she goes.

    As for Henri, she has her own life to lead, which includes Chat, a boy who fancies her at school and gives her rides home in his SUV. Or halfway home, anyway, because Henri can't bear to have Chat see how she lives or have her mom show her impoverished face at the posh gated home of the Chad family. Henri's dual life leads to all the complications you might expect.

    It's a very sincere story that we might imagine comes from first-time writer-director Enid Zentelis's personal experience, but her storytelling style is quite awkward. As Henri plays "rich house, poor house" and Zentelis pounds us over the head with reminders of what it means to be poor and caricatures of what it means to be rich, the story loses any subtlety it may have started with. Henri is never shown in class, interacting with other schoolmates, exploring the neighborhood, or doing anything else that gives her an identity other than "poor girl." There are only two much-needed letups in this routine — wordless scenes in which she walks among the logs in a becalmed lumber yard and watches shoppers in an upscale town center — that add some depth of emotion to her character. Apart from that, flipping back and forth between the movie's takes on wealth and poverty is like listening to a stereo with two volume settings — 0 and 11.

    The film raised my hopes in the opening minutes with a clear-eyed look at the old Pacific Northwest — a culture that still exists outside of the nouveau-riche Microsoft/Starbucks/Amazon-ized cities. Having grown up in approximately this area, and under approximately (but not quite as severely) these circumstances, I felt a special affinity for the look and feel of the down-and-out Northwest. I expected to feel the same way for these characters, but the spell fell away pretty quickly.

    One noteworthy performance comes from Gary Farmer, who has the best role in the picture — that of an Indian casino dealer who befriends Kate. He gives the mother-daughter twosome rides around town in a jalopy he assembled from parts he smuggled out on his lunch break at the GM plant — only one of the four doors still opens, so he fluidly launches himself through the back door and over the seat back into the driver's seat. He's seen enough of humanity to know a little bit about it but isn't necessarily as skillful with people as he'd like to be. If the other characters in the film had as much personality as this one, it could have been a stronger effort.

    APRIL 27, 2004

    Reader comments on Evergreen:

  • Twin extras   from Juan A., Oct 21, 2005

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