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'9 Full Moons' casts a harsh glow on romance

 '9 Full Moons' casts a harsh glow on romance
Watch the trailer for "9 Full Moons."

There's plenty of heavy baggage in the romantic drama "9 Full Moons."

But like the bohemian lovers who cart it around, through the bars and bungalows of East Hollywood, writer-director Tomer Almagor isn't particularly interested in rifling through its contents. The terrifically cast L.A. story is more concerned with the alchemy and fumbling grace between its two "beautiful losers," to borrow a phrase from another character in the film.

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The beauties are Lev and Frankie, played by Bret Roberts and a revelatory Amy Seimetz. He's an aspiring musician who works as a driver. She's a hard-drinking hot mess who scavenges the streets for castoff furniture and clothing that she spruces up and sometimes sells; how she survives in contemporary Los Angeles is one of the movie's biggest mysteries. They meet in a dive club on a night that ends especially badly for Frankie, and before long she moves in with him, leaving the apartment that's partly a shrine to her failed marriage.

Almagor's directing debut is in some ways a gentle millennial spin on "Barfly." Like Charles Bukowski's characters, Frankie and Lev have never set foot on a career path, but in his laconic way he does pursue the chance to record with a famous roots-rocker (Donal Logue, pitch-perfect) who's in need of a creative recharge.

An unsatisfying attempt at back-story explanation proves a waste of Harry Dean Stanton and is out of sync with this finely observed romance's in-the-moment sensibility. Though the film's second half could be tighter, the details and atmosphere ring true throughout, especially in the walking-wounded chemistry between Seimetz and Roberts' tentative dreamers.

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"9 Full Moons"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

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