"Outside Providence" (based on Peter Farrelly's novel) opens with home movies of cherubic young boys in happy circumstances, the kind of hope-filled imagery that's shattered when director Michael Corrente cuts to a decade later and the brothers are on their paper route. Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) rides his bike through the early-morning streets. Attached by rope is his wheelchair-bound younger brother, who flings the newspapers. Followed close behind is their three-legged, one-eyed dog, Clops.
There's a gallows humor to "Outside Providence" that befits the characters' time, place and family circumstances. It's 1974 in Pawtucket, R.I., a once-thriving factory town gone to seed. The teen-age Dunphy has grown up with diminished expectations and little guidance. His mother committed suicide 11 years earlier, and his father's idea of an affectionate nickname for him is Dildo.
So Dunphy spends his time with equally aimless friends, smoking pot and plotting his escape from Pawtucket. The opportunity comes sooner than expected.
After getting into trouble with the law, his father (Alec Baldwin) ships him off to the prestigious Cornwall Academy in Connecticut. The street-smart Dunphy is unimpressed by the prep-school atmosphere of prosperity and achievement, but changes his mind after he meets the beautiful, intelligent, Ivy League-bound Jane Weston (Amy Smart).
"Outside Providence" paints Dunphy's transformation in broadly comic strokes, but Corrente mines a rich emotional undercurrent through the performances. Alec Baldwin turns in his best screen role since Glengarry Glen Ross as a gruff father who has difficulty expressing his deep love for his kids.
Dunphy isn't magically transformed into an "A" student, and his circumstances don't really change. But in the context of "Outside Providence," the fact that Dunphy can now imagine new possibilities for his future is nothing short of miraculous.