"Come Early Morning," the feature writing and directing debut of actress Joey Lauren Adams, falls prey to bits of psychoanalytic shorthand and narrative predictability, but it offers the rare, meaty role for an actress in her late 30s.
Ashley Judd plays Southerner Lucy Fowler, a woman grappling with her fear of intimacy and some unwieldy emotional baggage, as short on self-esteem as she is long on drunken one-night stands. A truck-driving contractor by day who fancies herself as one of the boys, Lucy makes a habit of going home with a different guy every night, only to slip away in self-disgust at dawn. Abandoned by her emotionally distant father and bruised by her parents' divorce, Lucy is a walking billboard for denial, insisting to her roommate Kim (Laura Prepon) that she is just fine, thank you.
Enter Cal Percell (Jeffrey Donovan), a kindhearted outsider who falls for Lucy. Deeply attracted to Cal but as wild as a stallion, Lucy struggles with her conflicting impulses, eventually embarking on a painful course of self-examination. She adopts a stray dog, accompanies her estranged father to church and begins to lower her guard.
Avowedly mining bits of her own Arkansas background for inspiration, Adams has crafted a fully realized portrait of a woman in transition. Her dialogue feels sharp and authentic, its rhythm and cadence faintly echoing Kevin Smith, who directed Adams in her best-known film, 1997's "Chasing Amy." Like "Amy" it raises salient questions about gender roles and female promiscuity.)
Adams, frustrated over the dearth of good female roles, originally wrote the film as an acting vehicle for herself. Having opted to direct instead, she found a fitting actress in Judd. It's a part that calls to mind Judd's screen debut as another woman searching for her identity in 1993's "Ruby in Paradise." The supporting players are equally strong, especially Tim Blake Nelson as Lucy's uncle and Diane Ladd as her stoic grandmother.
Cinematographer Tim Orr has shot the North Little Rock locations with such attention to detail and texture that it's a shame Adams couldn't have resisted the temptation for cheap and easy metaphors, like the wounded stray Lucy takes in (after having been hurt herself in a bar fight). To its credit, the film doesn't end as tidily as it might have, implying instead that Lucy's journey toward self-discovery will be ongoing.
'Come Early Morning'
MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual situations
A Roadside Attractions release. Writer-director Joey Lauren Adams. Producers Julie Yorn, Holly Wiersma. Cinematographer Tim Orr. Editor Meg Reticker. Music Alan Brewer. Production design Max Biscoe. Costume design Lee Hunsaker. Running time 1 hour, 37 minutes.
At selected theaters.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times