When a one-time flame comes backstage to surprise a fading rock musician with the news that he has a 13 year old daughter and that it's his turn to play parent, there is only way this musical road movie can go. But what this predictable tale that made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival lacks in surprises it more than makes up for in charm, good music and the indelible performances of Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin as father and child. An indie drama with appeal to fans of character-driven fare this could score a sleeper hit for a savvy distributor.
Ethan Brand (Nivola) is living off the fumes of a rapidly fading career. He's so broke that he has to borrow rent money from his manager Sloan (Peter Stormare), but he still has enough fans to warrant a tour that he hopes will lead to a comeback. A stormy personality with a knack for alienating those around him, he is not warm or welcoming when long ago fling Mary Ann Jones (Elisabeth Shue) drops her bombshell on him and abandons their daughter Janie (Breslin) to his dubious care. Like her new dad, she's a talented musician, but with a man as reluctant to grow up and accept responsibility as Ethan, that is a tentative bond at best.
Director David M. Rosenthal does himself no favors by writing a story without an obvious trajectory, but he well compensates for it with a good ear for dialogue and a strong sense of the rhythms of the road. He also chose well in turning to Eef Barzelay, best known for his work with alt-country band Clem Snide, for Ethan's tunes, and Irish singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes for Janie's songs, giving each character distinctive musical personalities. A terrific supporting cast that, in addition to Shue and Stormare, includes Brittany Snow as Ethan's girlfriend, and Frank Whaley and Joel Moore as his band mates, play parts in an increasingly frustrated entourage—this dynamic is another of the film's strengths.
But Rosenthal's finest touch of casting was his stars. Breslin is sweetly vulnerable and completely believable as a young teen that's far more adult than either of her parents. Nivola is charismatic, but also petulant, spoiled and a little scared of where his life has brought him. It's a pleasure taking in the charged and changing relationship between father and daughter and watching both of them grow up onscreen.
Contact: Unified Pictures/Absurda, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cast: Alessandro Nivola, Abigail Breslin, Elisabeth Shue, Peter Stormare, Joel Moore, Frank Whaley, Brittany Snow, Frances Fisher
Director/Screenwriter: David M. Rosenthal
Producers: Eric Bassett, Keith Kjarval
Running time: 107 min
Release date: Unset