'Come Early Morning'
Judd, who has clearly found her milieu in this modest independent film, plays Lucille, an abrasive anti-belle living in a claustrophobic Southern town. Lucille has some serious intimacy issues; a spectacularly dysfunctional family, including a distant, damaged father (Scott Wilson); and an unfortunate habit of drinking herself into the bed of every man who wanders across her radar. The movie's title comes from her tendency to bolt as soon as the sun rises.
Along comes Cal (Jeffrey Donovan), a romantic straight-shooter whose forthright tenderness threatens to thaw Lucille's chilly defenses. If you think you know what happens next, you're probably wrong; unexpected developments keep the movie from veering into cliche.
And few things have inspired more movie cliches than life in a Southern hamlet, where (according to Hollywood) everybody knows you, your family and your business, and nobody hesitates to offer an unsolicited opinion. But first-time writer/director Joey Lauren Adams (an erstwhile actress who's appeared in "Chasing Amy" and "The Break-Up") knows the territory; her upbringing in Arkansas undoubtedly informed the film's nod to tradition and, perhaps, its refusal to submit completely.
As the emotionally withdrawn Lucille, Judd -- whose girl-next-door beauty is only partially muted by her lack of makeup -- is the best thing in this movie. This is a high-strung role, requiring lots of crying in cars, screaming at closed doors and playing fall-down drunk, and Judd handles it all with aplomb and admirable nuance. It's not her fault that at a certain point, you want to jump through the screen and talk some sense into her.
Donovan, a longtime television actor, is minimally seductive as Cal, but he never seems to find his passion for the role or his on-screen love interest. Lucille and Cal's interactions are painfully terse and, as a result, pretty unsatisfying. This may be precisely the director's intention, but if that's the case, the tension is never explored thoroughly enough to make it feel meaningful or useful. Diane Ladd, as Lucille's beleaguered Nana, is a welcome onscreen presence, bringing an understated pathos to scenes that could easily have devolved into emotional chaos.
As that rare unabashedly female-centric movie, "Morning" is a boon; helmed by and starring women, it takes on the issues -- family responsibilities, guilt and burgeoning self-awareness--critical to women's lives and so underrepresented in current cinema. It's a solid, if flawed, effort by Adams. If this is an indication of her future promise as a filmmaker, she should certainly keep at it.
"Come Early Morning"
Directed by Joey Lauren Adams; screenplay by Adams; photographed by Tim Orr; edited by Meg Reticker; music by Alan Brewer; production design by Max Biscoe; produced by Michel Litvak, Ed Bass, Julie Yorn and Holly Wiersma. A Roadside Attractions/IDP release. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: R (language and some sexual situations).