Writer-director Frank Whaley, primarily a busy film and TV actor ("Field of Dreams," "Ray Donovan"), has crafted a tender, evocative tale of an unlikely friendship in his fourth outing behind the camera, "Like Sunday, Like Rain."
The title, which evokes some lost Neil Diamond song, refers to a music composition written by 12-year-old Reggie (Julian Shatkin), a cello prodigy and all-around brainiac who lives in hollow luxury on Manhattan's Upper West Side with his tense, dismissive mother, Barbara (Debra Messing).
Then there's Eleanor (Leighton Meester), a 20ish waitress with a man-child guitarist boyfriend (Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day) who's just worked her last nerve. A perfect storm of events leads the floundering Eleanor to a gig as Reggie's live-in nanny, just as Barbara is leaving for a stretch in China with her second husband. (Her first spouse, Reggie's father, died in a car accident.)
As the summer progresses, Reggie and Eleanor become pals and careful confidantes, with Reggie developing a gentle crush on his musically inclined guardian. In ways that are warm and credible, their odd-couple dynamic eases into a case of "who's nannying who?"
A rocky trip to see Eleanor's low-rent family in upstate New York seals the bond between Reggie and Eleanor. Their late-night motel conversation is especially stirring.
Whaley nicely calibrates this wistful dramedy's emotional quotient, never allowing sentiment to turn into sap. He also smartly dials down Reggie's initial precociousness to reveal a kid who's deep, resourceful and strangely sensible.
Shatkin and Meester are terrific together, deftly navigating roles that could have become phony or clichéd. Messing is effective in her brief turn, though it's a one-note part.
A touching ending caps a quite wonderful journey, one that's greatly enhanced by Jimi Jones' fine camera work and a lovely score by Ed Harcourt.
"Like Sunday, Like Rain."
MPAA rating: R for language.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.