Piper De Palma gives a breakout performance in “Spiral Farm,” an unconventional coming-of-age story set on a fading hippie commune. Writer-director Alec Tibaldi pays more attention to the setting than the story; but the heroine and her surroundings are so artfully sketched that a thin plot isn’t a major liability.
De Palma plays Anahita, a teenager who lives with her mother Dianic (Amanda Plummer) in a dinky rural community, where a few free spirits practice the ideals of shared labor, spiritual connection and carnal pleasure. The commune has shrunk, and the libertine Dianic is more committed to her own bliss than the collective’s. But Anahita remains a faithful disciple — even though her family and friends’ openness about sex makes her uncomfortable.
“Spiral Farm” follows what happens when one of Dianic’s old boyfriends returns with his hunky college-aged son, Theo (Teo Halm), who tempts Anahita with his body and the suggestion that his family could help pay for her to leave home, go to school and pursue her dream of becoming a dancer.
Tibaldi has trouble developing this premise beyond a few dramatic vignettes — including one long sequence when Theo and Anahita spend a day in an unnamed nearby city, and she ponders her possible future.
Still, Tibaldi and De Palma both demonstrate a keen understanding of how it feels to be a misfit in the middle of nowhere, clinging to the known and dreaming of the possible. Not much happens in “Spiral Farm,” but what does is often heartbreaking.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 13, Monica Film Center, Santa Monica