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'Yosemite' is a low-key coming of age drama

'Yosemite' is a low-key coming of age drama
Troy Tinnirello, left as Alex, and James Franco as Phil in the movie "Yosemite." (Monterey Media)

Although evocative and nicely observed, the coming-of-age drama "Yosemite" ultimately proves too low-key and elliptical to make much of an impression. "Stand by Me" it ain't.

Set in Northern California in 1985, the film was written and directed by Gabrielle Demeestere, largely based on two short stories from James Franco's 2013 book "A California Childhood." The script is divided into three overlapping chapters, each focusing on one of three Palo Alto fifth-grade friends — Chris (Everett Meckler), Joe (Alec Mansky) and Ted (Calum John) — as a mountain lion is reportedly roaming their community. The symbolism of this predatory feline is as elusive as the cat itself.

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The triptych unfolds as follows: A recovering alcoholic (Franco) takes sons Chris and Alex (Troy Tinnirello) on a bonding trip to Yosemite National Park that's marked by an odd discovery; Joe befriends comic book enthusiast Henry (Henry Hopper), a young man with ambiguous intentions; Ted's beloved cat, Charlie, disappears, inspiring Ted, Joe and Chris — armed with an unearthed handgun — to hunt Charlie's possible captor, said mountain lion.

The emotional strands here involving separation, loss, friendship and sexual awakening help texture these modest episodes and lend the film its greater dimension. But there's too much dot-connecting and conjecture required to fully grasp the main kids' semi-fraught worlds.

Performances are naturalistic and engaging, with period references to nascent Internet use and the future of mobile phones subtly, amusingly incorporated.

— Gary Goldstein

"Yosemite." MPAA rating: R, for some sexual material, nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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