Eleanor (Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester) is having a particular bad day – after breaking up with cheating boyfriend Dennis (Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) she also loses her job as a waitress and ends up with nowhere to go. In the meantime, in the upper part of town, 12-year-old prodigy Reggie (Julian Shatkin) just lost his usual nanny that went back to Panama. In the hands of destiny, the two join paths for a little while, realising that, despite appearances, they share more in common than it seems at first sight.
Frank Whaley is yet another actor turned writer/director with this singular coming of age story. And as predicted, the performances in this film exceed expectations. Not only are the characters believable and far from the usual types one can find in this kind of film (think the low-class girl struggling in the big town, or the annoying smart kid), but both Meester and newcomer Shatkin are perfect for their parts. Shatkin, particularly, delivers the “nerdy” talk with all the precision of a grown-up actor, plus the adorableness of a pre-teenager about to discover there’s a world beyond his books and big house. He makes the film – this is not the spoiled little rich brat we could expect, but a realistic, old man inside a boy’s body that rationalises even his own mythology about his dad, dead in a car crash when he was three. Kudos for director Whaley for his casting choices and direction, that even manages to take a performance out of Billie Joe, which also feels scarily well fitted to the part of struggling alcoholic musician.
Music is also a big part of this film. Reggie plays the cello (although he believes Art is Dead) and composes a piece that is called, yes, you’ve guessed it, “Like Sunday, Like Rain”. By the end of the film, Reggie, the kid so perceptive about everyone and everything, is surprised to discover that Eleanor is also a musician. Er, Reggie, she knows the difference between a violin and a viola, if that isn’t a clue… But fellow musicians may feel like it’s difficult to relate to this big stream of the film, as not much attention is shown to tell the actors how to actually play the instruments realistically, which, when Reggie’s talk is so precise and above the common ground, is an unforgivable lapse. Also, the insistence on the music theme throughout the film does get a bit tiring by the time we get passed the one hour mark, and manages to take intensity from the grand finale.
That is one of the film’s supreme sins – it tries a bit too hard to be emotional with its score, when all you needed was the story and characters to pull it out perfectly. However, Reggie’s falling in love with Eleanor is a sweet moment of feelings awakening and is a powerful scene that will stay with you way after the film is over. The sobriety of Jimi Jones’ photography, relying mostly on white light flooded shots and carefully framed compositions, is the cherry on top of a cake that had the potential to be an unforgettable experience, if it wasn’t for too much icing. But Whaley already shows a voice, and now, we guess, it’s just the case of tuning it up.