Blue Car is the first film from writer/ director Karen Moncrieff and it is a notable first effort for both Moncrieff and her lead actress, Agnes Bruckner. Together they pull off a film which is full of intense realism without being burdened by melodrama.
Bruckner plays 18-year-old aspiring writer Megan Denning (yes, this freaked me out a little). To say she lives with her mother and sister would be nearly untrue as her mother is never at home. Meg looks after her very unhappy younger sister while her mother works, attends school, and hangs around with an abusive boyfriend. Her father has left the family years before, departing in a blue car. It is this moment that Meg writes about in a poem that will change her life.
Meg's writing teacher, Mr. Auster (David Strathairn), is drawn to the intensity of his young student in ways he knows he shouldn't be. But Meg has both a real talent and a real need for a father figure. It is impossible to blame either character when Meg turns to him again and again.
On the surface, Blue Car is about a vulnerable teenage girl who is taken advantage of by her teacher. But if you take in the story as a whole, including all of the characters, you see that Blue Car is about people making bad choices because they feel powerless to act differently. Throughout the film we see characters acting in ways they know to be wrong, but who can't see beyond their own immediate circumstances to behave differently. In the last section of the film, when Meg and Mr. Bruckner leave their small Ohio town to attend a poetry contest in Florida. It is this change of scenery and perspective finally reveal their real options and true selves.
There is something wonderfully John Sayles-esque aboutBlue Carand it is probably the fine performance by Sayles veteran David Strathairn which lends this element. Ultimately though, it is actress Agnes Brucker who really makes the film work. Finally we see a teenager who has a brain and isn't bogged down with their own angst. (I love Christina Ricci, but her legacy has been devastating to the character of the adolescent girl).
I worry that Blue Car is the kind of quiet art house film that will be lost in the barrage of summer movies, but it's worth checking out. Put it on your list of things-to-rent in the late fall.