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TV Guide

"Ambrose's subtle, intelligent performance is a standout"
Three and a half Stars
Maitland McDonagh

This third theatrical feature by writer/director Robert J. Siegel refutes the glib assertion that those who can't do, teach. An associate professor of film at Purchase College, Siegel shows a deft touch with actors and a quietly assured sense of how to allow a story to develop without formulaic contrivances or cheap melodramatics. The Wheeler family's oceanfront Myrtle Beach, S.C., diner has served generations of vacationers, and when the senior Wheelers retired to Arizona they passed it on to tomboyish Frankie (Lauren Ambrose) and her older brother, Neil (John Pais). The siblings also co-own the house in which they were raised, but Neil is married and the father of three small children, while Frankie — who's probably 16 or 17, but has the awkwardness of someone younger — has remained mired in the familiar role of little sister. Unlike her best friend Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), a sharp-tongued firebrand who runs a boardwalk piercing shop, Frankie is emotionally reserved and physically tentative; she doesn't dance or party or even swim, though she loves the ocean. Nicola favors bleached hair and tight, tarty clothes, while Frankie is clueless about make-up, lets her hair go its own way and buries her body beneath baggy overalls. But everything changes when the willowy, seductive Josee (Joelle Carter) arrives on the arm of local boy Brad (James Villemaire), who met her on vacation in Hawaii. Nicola hates Josee on sight, but everyone else is captivated, including Frankie; the supremely self-assured Josee knows how to make people feel special, as though they shared a little of her golden aura. And while it gradually becomes clear that her heady attentions are fundamentally manipulative, she's the catalyst for Frankie's awakening to life's possibilities. Over the course of the summer, Frankie finds a boyfriend, makes some tentative decisions about her future and reassesses her relationships with her family and friends, all without the tacky titillation and trumped-up crises that drive most Hollywood movies about teenagers. The film bears a passing resemblance to the French GIRLS CAN'T SWIM (1999), which also chronicles the thorny relationship between two maturing girls in a beach side community, but is closer in spirit to the subtle, low-key RUBY IN PARADISE (1993), which helped launch Ashley Judd's career. Ambrose's subtle, intelligent performance is a standout, but she's ably supported by Lowe, Carter and the rest of the ensemble cast.

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