In an atypical marketing move, the independent teen drama Evergreen is being shown only at AMC theaters. That exclusive engagement is the product of an unorthodox direct relationship between the chain and filmmaker Enid Zentelis. Odds are, our nation's distribution middlemen aren't feeling cut out of any action not if they've already seen this dreary and amateurish little picture (screened for critics mere hours before the ballyhooed AMC run began. Hmmm).
Developed under the auspices of the Sundance Institute and unveiled at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Evergreen is more akin to the slapdash dramatic features that have such an easy time worming their way into competition at America's increasingly desperate regional festivals. You've got your bleak, quasi-industrial setting (the movie was shot on location in Everett, Wash.), your story of mother/daughter disconnect, your "naturalistic" style of representation thwarted by first-timer clumsiness. In slow, unconvincing stages, the movie depicts a battle for the soul of a teen-ager named Henri (Addie Land), who's as ashamed of her humble underpinnings as she is seduced by the upper-class lifestyle of her new boyfriend (Noah Fleiss). You can't exactly blame Henri: "Home" is a leaky dive she shares with her luckless factory-worker mom (Cara Seymour) and stern Eastern European grandmother (Lynn Cohen), while her new squeeze Chat's pad is a wonderland of hot meals and crisp, clean sheets. And if Chat's father (Bruce Davison) is a boozy late-night gambler and his mother (Mary Kay Place) a genial phobic who's petrified to leave the house well, nobody's perfect.
Zentelis' script is actually a good deal better than its execution would indicate, betraying a gift for believable dialogue and portentous circumstance. (One especially pithy sequence details the collision of Chat's breezily affluent world and the door-to-door shame Henri's mom endures as a seller of cosmetics.) But working-class realism of the type Evergreen strives for depends on performances far more persuasive and consistent than those Zentelis extracts from her cast. "Name" stars Davison and Place turn in the only truly professional work; all three generations of Henri's family are poorly portrayed, with defects ranging from Cohen's ridiculous Latvian accent to newcomer Land's inability to convey any emotion save petulance. (Still, she's being touted as a find, getting a press-notes shout-out for her "feature film debut" and even receiving a separate thank-you in the closing credits.) Shot on 35mm film and high-definition video, the movie is being distributed to each theater via satellite and digitally projected using AMC's "exclusive Digital Theatre Distribution System." Caveat emptor: At the screening/playback we attended, the picture regularly slowed down for seconds at a time, as if someone were leaning on the still-frame button. A few more times and it would've counted as Art.