If your diet of streaming during these anxious weeks allows for something small, human and bittersweet between more diverting pick-me-ups, actress Stephanie Turner’s directorial debut, “Justine,” is an adroitly contained indie that’s worth your attention.
Though it’s a story steeped in the prickly grief of a military widow (Turner), it has an emotional suspense about how we process pain that feels natural and keenly observed, unsentimental without being unfeeling. Uprooted with her two children to Southern California to live with her father-in-law, Don (Glynn Turman), Lisa reluctantly takes a job as nanny to 8-year-old Justine (Daisy Prescott), a cheery girl with spina bifida whose loving but entitled real estate broker parents (Darby Stanchfield and Josh Stamberg) keep her practically hidden from the world.
At home, Lisa is withholding and testy toward her personable kids and Don’s entreaties for togetherness; to her, they’re still discomforting reminders of what’s been ripped away. But at work, the baseless isolation of Justine’s life cracks open Lisa’s fiercely nurturing side. Turner, who also wrote and produced, is mercifully unconcerned with maudlin victories or redemption.
The daily work of how wounded people interact is what she’s interested in, and she even effectively dramatizes how casually prejudice is bred in white-bubble worlds (Lisa’s kids are biracial, and Justine hears everything her racist parents say). “Justine” recalls the golden era of the conscientious, well-acted movie of the week: a slice of life built around hardships, but without exploiting them.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Playing: Available on Netflix