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Like a short story by a talented novice, Karen Moncrieff's feature debut contains revelatory passages of heartfelt pain as well as moments so naively “literary” they might have been written in a student notebook in gold ink. Agnes Bruckner gives an impressive performance as a high school senior living a dismal latchkey existence with her younger sister; their father is estranged from the family (having departed in a blue car) and their angry mother is trapped in a dead-end job. David Strathairn is equally fine as a charismatic, self-dramatizing English teacher who encourages Bruckner to enter a national poetry competition and seduces her with his own rarefied sorrow. The scenes of family squalor are memorably persuasive, but any filmmaker ending her movie with the heroine throwing a crumpled poem into the ocean needs a few more writing courses. 96 min.

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