APRIL GRACE

3 Stars
Year Released: 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 98 minutes
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The joyous confusion and oft-times fleeting pain of growing-up get center stage attention in Andrew Hutcheson’s feature film, April Grace. Eccentric and high-strung teenager Justin (Steve White) doesn’t get a lot of support, or patience, from his small town neighbors, but he can always count on his best friend Penny (Kelsey Lynn Stokes) to follow him along on whatever weird adventure he’s come up with next. Usually that involves breaking into, or otherwise trespassing, somewhere they’re not supposed to be.

Both Justin and Penny’s lives get more interesting, however, when aspiring writer Justin becomes enamored with new-to-town college student April Grace (Elizabeth McIntire). As the idea of April Grace captures Justin’s heart, a college student working as a mechanic at Penny’s father’s garage, Shawn (Terrence Ruggiero), turns his focus on Penny. Suddenly both Justin and Penny are dealing with new feelings about not just those around them, but each other.

April Grace isn’t big on narrative surprises or originality; if you’ve seen a couple teen flicks, or watched a teen show on television (such as Dawson’s Creek), you pretty much know where this is heading. That said, pleasant is pleasant, and when a film does a good job of being likeable, it doesn’t necessarily matter how familiar the tale.

And the film is very likeable. On a strictly technical level, it looks good and scenes are composed well. The edit moves and overall the film doesn’t bring attention to itself in too negative a sense. Sure, there was a moment or two where the audio sounded a little too rough for comfort, but it wasn’t a consistent or glaring issue.

The acting is strong, and while Steve White’s Justin may seem, initially, like the obvious choice as the focus for the film, I often found myself more engaged with Kelsey Lynn Stokes’ portrayal of Penny. While she maintains her fierce loyalty to Justin, Penny is still curious about, and appreciative of, the new attention she’s beginning to get from Shawn. There’s a natural feeling to her reactions in every direction and sense, and for once a teen drama doesn’t become melodramatic; Penny’s world isn’t ending, it may not even be really changing, and she’s navigating the waters as best she can.

But that’s not a detraction from White’s portrayal of Justin; the comparison is somewhat unfair because the characters are not set up on equal footing. Penny is more a typical tomboy, while Justin is socially awkward and eccentric in a number of different ways. The performance, with Justin, is not one that is meant to underline a universal naturalness; little about Justin feels natural because his character is odd. So both performances are strong, but in different ways, and your ability to relate may vary as a result.

Overall, though, it all comes back to the familiarity of the story at the core, and how forgiving you’re willing to be with it. For me, I felt there was enough variation on the theme, and the friendship between Justin and Penny, for it to establish itself in a unique enough sense. From there, it’s about whether the film does what it sets out to do well, regardless of that aim, and I think that it does. As a lighthearted, coming of age drama, I think the film does a fine enough job.

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Posted on May 9, 2013 in Reviews by
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