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Lebanon, Pa.

a film by Ben Hickernell

I was born about an hour away from the title town of first-time director Ben Hickernell's movie and I can say with a certain amount of inside knowledge that what little mention he makes about Lebanon Pennsylvania being a backwards community doesn't even ruffle the surface of exactly how red this red part of the state is - a state that thanks to Philadelphia goes blue on election day more oft than not. Of course this clash of cultures - the main character is a Philly man come to the sticks to bury his somewhat estranged father - is only meant to be the added flavour in what is really a movie about one man (the aforementioned Philly man played with a certain easiness by Josh Hopkins) and one seventeen year old girl (the man's cousin played with a surprising natural presence by first-timer Rachel Kitson) at a crossroads in each of the respective lives.

This lack of deeper insult to the backwardness of the title town/county aside (I suppose my own sense of self-importance is a bit stronger than Mr. Hickernell's) the film works on only the most basic of levels - but it does, for the most part, manage to work at that. Perhaps the story of one man trying to figure his life out (a la the ubiquitous male mid-life crisis) and his teen cousin deciding whether she should keep the baby she just found she has inside of her is more than enough for a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel movie, but on the big screen it comes off as mere folderol-in-the-making. Even though the film is done in the most obvious pedestrian manner at times, there are moments that could be called pensive longing - and even though this too could be construed as cliche, it works well when it happens here. Even with this critical derision, Lebanon, Pa. is a more than competent motion picture - even if it never reaches where it could have and/or should have.

The film is well acted on all parts (the closest to big name stars are Samantha Mathis and Mary Beth Hurt - unless you are one of the seven regular viewers of Cougar Town on TV which is where from you would know of Josh Hopkins) but still overall the film is too often weighted down by this cliché and formulaic filmmaking to get any great cinematic pleasure from - other than the occasional moment of clarity from Kitson - but then again, it is a suitably made movie from a first time director, and should be viewed as such. More middle-of-the-road than actually poorly done. Perhaps this backhanded compliment of Lebanon, Pa. being better than it has a right to is a bit on the snarky side (I have seen a lot worse from more established directors would be another of those backhanded compliments) but for lack of anything better, it is all I can leave you with. I do believe if someone comes out of this movie more shining than others it is the young Rachel Kitson. If she plays her cards right, as they say, a promising career should be on the horizon for her. [05/14/11]

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