Lightning Bug (July 27/05)
Lightning Bug is purportedly based on the real-life childhood experiences of writer/director Robert Hall, and while the filmmaker does a nice job of imbuing the story with a palpable sense of authenticity, Hall's closeness to the material results in supporting characters that are decidedly less-than-convincing. This is particularly true of the adults in the film, the majority of whom are painted with exceedingly broad strokes (a problem that's exacerbated by a few unreasonably over-the-top performances).
Having said that, there's no denying that Lightning Bug has some awfully effective moments - most of which revolve around the central character's tentative relationship with a local girl. Bret Harrison stars as Green Graves, a would-be special effects artist who dreams of someday leaving his small Southern town for Hollywood. And while his abusive stepfather (Kevin Gage) and drunk mother (Ashley Laurence) aren't exactly encouraging, Green receives support from new girlfriend Angevin Duvet (Laura Prepon).
Though Lightning Bug does feature a number of positive aspects - particularly Harrison's subtle, effective performance - the film never quite achieves lift-off. None of the movie's authority figures come off as anything more than simplistic stereotypes (ie Green's mean-spirited, beer-guzzling stepfather, Angevin's ultra-religious mother, etc), something that can surely be attributed to Hall's skewed overly-personal perspective. As a result, it's impossible to shake the feeling that the filmmaker's closeness to the material has prevented him from approaching some of these figures in a fair and balanced way.
Likewise, Hall's efforts to relieve tension by throwing in a few bits of comedy fall flat, while the exceedingly unsatisfying conclusion leaves the viewer with a bitter aftertaste. Yet there's no denying that Lightning Bug is a relatively promising debut, and it seems likely that Hall will go on to bigger and better things.