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'Evergreen': Ever Trite

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page WE44

"Evergreen" is one of those movies I wanted to like so badly going in that it hurts to have to be mean to it. A quiet family drama by an earnest, unknown, first-time director out of Sundance (Enid Zentelis), with no major stars in it (unless you count Mary Kay Place and Bruce Davison, and, good as they are, who would?), it sounds, at least on paper, like the perfect antidote to loud, slick summer fare. Unfortunately, it's also as trite as they come.

Set in a depressed and strangely desolate Pacific Northwest town, whose overcast weather lends a dishwater-dull, gray-green pallor to the film, "Evergreen" is the story of 14-year-old Henri (Addie Land) and her down-on-her-luck mother, Kate (Cara Seymour), who have moved in with Kate's dirt-poor Latvian-immigrant mother (Lynn Cohen) until the two are able to get back on their feet. (Apparently, there was an abusive man in the past somewhere, but little mention of the specific factors that led them to Grandmom's leaky dump is made, except in passing.) Soon, Kate is working in a makeup factory, while Henri has insinuated herself into the family of high-school hunk Chat Turly (Noah Fleiss), whose well-to-do parents (Place and Davison) seem afflicted by the kind of mysterious anomie that will only reveal itself when the movie is about 10 minutes from the closing credits. Despite the warning signs, Henri is all too eager to spend increasing amounts of time there, fooling around on Chat's big bed and helping herself to whatever's in the fridge. Naturally, she's driven by shame at her own poverty, and naturally, she'll come to realize, in the film's forced climax, that -- get this -- there's really no place like home after all.

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That's right, folks, the piddling payoff is a sentiment straight out of "The Wizard of Oz" -- or an embroidered sampler. There are a couple of good things about the film, chief among which is Land's naturalistic performance. But the overall sense of it, heightened by a folk-guitar score so spare it feels like part of the soundtrack is missing, is not one of poignant minimalism but emptiness.

EVERGREEN (PG-13, 85 minutes) --Contains sexual content and an incident of face-slapping. At the AMC Columbia, AMC Hoffman Center and Potomac Mills theaters.

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