'The Lesser Blessed' review: Benjamin Bratt meets high school romance on a Canadian Indian reservation

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Larry's an awkward hoodie-wearing teenager, one of those bookish types who narrate their own stories in novels and films. And Juliet is his blond ideal, a vision who could "suck a man dry with those eyes."

Larry is bullied, with one classmate in particular taking pleasure in beating him down. A new friend, Johnny, sticks up for him. Which makes him catnip to Juliet.

If only she could see Larry's wounded soul, the scars he hides underneath that hoodie. Maybe she'd be touched and he'd have a shot. 

"The Lesser Blessed" takes a dark but somewhat conventional high school melodrama and sets it on an Indian reservation in Canada. It's a revealing portrait of lives on the edge of poverty (no casinos here, apparently) and the limiting, two-fisted world a sensitive soul like Larry might never escape. 

Larry ( Joel Evans, haunted, gaunt and out-of-place) has a secret, one glimpsed in flashbacks. It's a secret his mom ( Tamara Podemski) shares, one they keep from mom's soulful on-again / off-again boyfriend ( Benjamin Bratt). 

But kids at high school know it. That's why the creep Darcy ( Adam Butcher) taunts Larry with a lighter. Fire means something to Larry.

The pleasures in this narration-reliant story come from the people and the place they call home, the details director Anita Doron includes in her adaptation of Richard Van Camp's novel. In this bleak world, grudges last a lifetime. In this school, the guy who stops Darcy from beating up Larry, Johnny ( Kiowa Gordon), is the one punished. 

But house parties without adult supervision have the same outcome as anywhere else in North America -- kids drinking, kids experimenting with drugs ("hot knifing"), kids hooking up.

The performances are pretty sharp, with Bratt lending professionalism and gravitas to the proceedings playing a man who wouldn't mind being a dad -- if the kid and his mother would let him. But the situations feel contrived, the romantic pairings a bit arbitrary. 

Strip away the narration, and this would be more cinematic. Take away the setting and this is fairly routine stuff. But "The Lesser Blessed" is a colorful, well-mounted reminder that high school life isn't just the province of the Disney Channel.

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THE LESSER BLESSED
(Grade: C-plus)
Cast: Joel Evans, Benjamin Bratt, Chloe Rose, Kiowa Gordon, Adam Butcher, Tamara Podemski
Written and directed by Anita Doron, based on a Richard Van Camp novel. A Monterey release. 
Running time: 1:26
MPAA rating: R for drug and alcohol use, violence, language and sexual content -- all involving teens
Photo/Video credit: Monterey Media